Okay, so I’ve been wanting to chat with you about this for some time.
Soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, cashew milk, hemp milk, coconut milk, oat milk and the like.
Are they really healthier than good old fashioned cow’s milk?
Before you grab your next latte, pull up a chair and let’s discuss.
It’s no surprise that consuming cow’s milk long-term can wreak havoc on your health. Let’s briefly go over the reasons…
Consuming large amounts of cow’s milk has been strongly linked to ischemic heart disease, as well as brain, lung, bladder, prostate, ovarian, colorectal, and testicular cancer (1, 2). Dairy fat (as in butter and cheese) contains the highly toxic chemical compound dioxin that has been linked to many types of cancer as well. Dairy protein also contains high levels of IGF-1. Case-control studies in diverse populations show that the greater the blood concentrations of IGF-1 the greater the stimulation of cancer cell growth and division (1, 2).
Contrary to popular belief the acid load of dairy products increases calcium loss in your bones making dairy one of the worst sources of calcium for the human body. The acidic nature (Yes, you thought milk was basic! guess what? The correct way to see it is that it’s not alkaline, it’s acidic…) of milk consumption actually causes high levels of urinary calcium excretion. Ironically, osteoporosis tends to occur in countries where dairy calcium intake is the highest (3). Non-dairy whole plant-based foods actually contain much more bioavailable calcium, meaning the calcium absorption rate from plant foods is significantly higher than from dairy products (4). For example, 100 calories of bok choy, turnip greens, collard greens, tofu, kale, sesame seeds, and even romaine lettuce contain more absorbable calcium then 100 calories of milk (2).
The consumption of dairy has also strongly been associated with a rapid increase of inflammation throughout the body, making dairy (along with sugar) one of the most inflammatory foods on the planet. Inflammation has been linked to all types of autoimmune and degenerative diseases. For example, arthritis is inflammation of the joints and heart disease is inflammation of the arteries. So, it’s safe to say that eating dairy also leads to a variety of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases (5).
And if that wasn’t enough dairy is also mucus forming, contains no fiber, and is very difficult for most people to digest (6)…
I could go on, but for now lets move the discussion forward…
Now we know to stay clearly away from or significantly limit the amount of any dairy products in our diet. What are our alternatives?
Well, it looks like the best alternatives are soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, cashew milk, hemp milk, coconut milk, oat milk and the like.
But are they really healthier alternatives? In a simple answer. Yes.
But let’s look at this issue more closely. If you’re in your local grocery store isle looking at the ingredient list on the back of all these alternative milks you might be in for a bit of a surprise. Carrageenan, “natural flavors”, vegetable oils, xanthan gum, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D2 (synthetic form with very poor absorption rates (7)) are all common ingredients listed on the back of many popular brands. And to make them more flavor balanced many companies also add cane sugar and sea salt. Still, 98% of the best of these milk alternatives contain only the ingredient at hand and water. So, I’m not saying that these ingredients consumed in small quantities (2% or less of most nut milks) are extremely bad for you and many of them are actually derived from natural ingredients. But, because they are extracted and processed they are no longer natural and your body treats them quite differently when consumed. So, if you’re adding a dash of almond milk to your hot tea go for it. It’s definitely better then adding the cow’s milk. But if you’re eating 4 bowls of cereal with milk a day, I’d err on the side of caution.
Of all the milks mentioned above I would say that almond, coconut and cashew milk are the best alternative dairy free beverages. And you can most definitely find some very natural brands. Just do your research. The soy, rice and oat varieties usually contain more filler and stabilizer ingredients then the nut milks. We don’t quite have a definitive answer on how good consuming large amounts of soy-based products affect our health. (There is data that shows both good and bad long term health outcomes) When it comes to alternative milks the best varieties are homemade. You can find lots of easy recipes to make your own on the web. Or you can do what I have done and that is to stop eating cereal for breakfast, putting cheese on your enchiladas, and drinking a glass of milk before bed. Instead switch completely to other plant-based whole foods that don’t even require substitutes and you’re in for the better long-term plan. In a few months of dropping the dairy (and it’s alternatives) you won’t even want to add alternative milks to your culinary repertoire.
So, in conclusion I would say: stick to the nut milks, use as little as possible and if you’re using large amounts make your own homemade bottles. The best is to move away from substituting all together and eventually you’ll be able to avoid the entire dairy aisle of your grocery store.
Here’s to our health! One glass of “milk” at a time.
Some sources are listed below if you would like more information on the role of dairy consumption and health.
- The Starch Solution, John A. McDougall, pg. 114
- Eat to Live, Joel Fuhrman, MD. pg. 108-111
- The China Study, T. Colin Campbell, Phd., Thomas M. Campbell II, MD
- It Starts with Food, Dallas Hartwig & Melissa Hartwig, pg. 123-135
- The Autoimmune Solution, Amy Myers, MD
- Radical Beauty, Deepak Chopra, MD., Kimberly Snyder, CN., pg. 29