Week 23 | Got (Plant-Based) Milk?: A Full List of Pros and Cons of Different Types of Plant Based Mi
--Audio Guide --
Does anyone drink real milk anymore? Dairy has certainly been a staple in the American diet. The USDA guidelines advocate for adiet that incorporates dairy daily due to its calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B and protein content (Self). Regardless, eliminating milk, cheese, yogurt etc. are no longer niche preferences, people are more and more accommodating non-dairy lifestyles.
Why Drink Plant-Based Milk In The First Place
Arguments against consuming dairy begin with a look at the way humans have evolved - there was no dairy in the diets of humans coming up - “anatomically modern humans presumably achieved adequate nutrition for millennia before the domestication of dairy animals and many populations throughout the world today consume little or no milk” (The Happy Vegan). Furthermore, “no other species drinks the milk of their mother after the few months to a year after birth” - “humans have no nutritional requirement for milk, and it may be doing us more harm than good because of all the sugar even plain non-fat milk contains”, says a study on milk out of Harvard (One Green Planet + Huffington Post). From my article in week 7 advocating for a diet of little to no sugar due to the effects carbohydrates have on hormones such as insulin that encourage fat retention, and also recent support linking increased sugar consumption to cancer, milk seems a no no in this light.
On top of all of this some people cannot digest milk properly: “Dairy milk contains the natural sugar lactose, along with the protein casein. Both have been linked to digestive problems in some people”...”Even [people] that are not lactose intolerant were never meant to have to break down the mucosal liquid from another mammal (One Green Planet + Livestrong + Jaman).
But what of milks calcium content that supposedly strengthens our bones? A study out of The British Medical Journal found that, “drinking three glasses of milk a day [actually] increases the risk of osteoporosis, bone fractures, and correlates with a higher mortality rate” - “milk is harmful because a metabolite of lactose ... mimics aging through inflammation and oxidative stress” (PCRM). The study on milk out of Harvard supported these findings stating, “that bone fracture rates tend to be lower in countries that do not consume milk, compared with those that do”. Luckily, milk is not the only way to intake recommended calcium, vitamin, nutrient and protein requirements, there are many other sources - for example “one of the best ways to increase bone density is through exercise”. (PCRM).
Enter plant-based milks! Especially walking into an elevated health food grocery store, there seems to be now an overabundance of choice when it comes to non-dairy milks. They all come with their own pros and cons, including the fact that a lot of these dairy substitutes have sugar added and are fortified and processed with unwanted additives. Along with the below list that highlights some of the advantages and disadvantages of certain plant-based milks, be sure to read labels while you grocery shop! Cheers!
-High in Protein: “Include soy milk in your diet as a source of protein. Unlike most plant-based proteins -- which contain some, but not all, of the amino acids you need in your diet -- soy contains all nine essential amino acids. Your body assembles these amino acids into new proteins, including antibodies essential for immune system function, structural proteins that hold your tissues together, and enzymes that help your cells produce energy. Each cup of unsweetened, plain soy milk provides 7 grams of protein.”
-It is high in vitamin B-12: “Getting enough vitamin B-12 in your diet helps your cells produce DNA, aids in red blood cell function and also keeps your nerves healthy. The riboflavin in soy milk helps your cells produce energy, and it also shields your DNA from damage" (Livestrong)
-May increase the risk of breast cancer: “Because soy products, including soy milk, contain chemicals similar in structure to estrogen, a diet rich in soy might pose a health risk if you've recently had breast cancer”. “Soy is suggested to mimic estrogen, the primary female hormone that is responsible for the development and maintenance of female characteristics. In a nutshell, high levels of estrogen are suggested to increase breast cancer risk” (Bistro MD)
“Phytoestrogens, [the] plant-based versions of the hormone estrogen, may have healthful benefits for many women, [but] researchers have uncovered a possible increased risk of breast cancer in some women who consume soy foods, according to Cornell University” (Livestrong)
-Male infertility: “Like breast cancer risk, men raised high concern after news claims suggested a link between male infertility and soy. Mostly in regards to sperm count, soy may create the risk of male infertility, or the difficulty of getting a female partner pregnant. Some studies have demonstrated that a diet rich in soy lowers sperm concentrations”. (Bistro MD)
-High in added sugar: “Some varieties of soy milk come loaded with sugar”. “Added sugars boost your calories without offering nutritional value, and increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Select unsweetened soy milk to minimize added sugar -- it contains just 1 gram of naturally occurring sugars and no added sugar. Chocolate and vanilla flavored soy milks, in contrast, contain 18 and 6 grams of added sugar per serving, respectively”. (Livestrong)
-Gluten free: Almond milk is “safe alternative for those who suffer from lactose intolerance, or who are allergic to gluten and casein” (Fit Day)
-Heart health: Almond milk has no dietary cholesterol and no saturated fat (Livestrong)
-High in antioxidants: Almond milk is a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E, so it can help prevent cancer and slow the signs of aging (Fit Day).
-Compared to soy and rice milk, almond milk has the highest concentrations of vitamins and minerals. While cow's milk, rice milk and soy milk are often fortified with various minerals and vitamins, all of these nutrients occur naturally in almond milk. This means that you can make almond milk yourself at home, and it's just as good for you as any almond milk you might buy in the store (Fit Day)
-not very much protein
-Not suitable for those with nut allergies: “Almonds are a tree nut, so almond milk isn't safe for consumption by those who suffer a tree nut allergy” (Fit Day)
-It takes a lot of water to grow an almond: “Most of the concern about almonds’ effect on the environment has to do with the amount of water they require. According to Mother Jones, it takes 1.1 gallons of water to grow a single almond. Like many food crops, almonds make particularly heavy ecological demands on one particular part of the country: drought-stricken California” (Slate).
-Unlikely to cause allergy: Rice milk is the most hypoallergenic of all milk products. People with lactose intolerance or casein allergy cannot have dairy, and those with soy or nuts allergies cannot drink soy or almond milk. Rice milk contains a generous supply of balanced nutrition for those who are not able to tolerate other milk alternatives (Fit Day).
-Very high in carbohydrates: “Since rice is highly starchy, so is rice milk. One cup of rice milk contains 33 grams of carbohydrates, 3 to 4 times the amount in milk or soy milk” (Fit Day)
“It tastes great with a buttery, nutty flavor.. For this reason, it’s a favorite among the vegan community, who’ll use it to give recipes like vegan mac and cheese a more dairy-like taste and texture” (Self).
“Cashew milk does not contain the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein found in a handful of cashews though because all that disappears when the pulp is strained from the milk” ”But, like almond milk, it’s pretty low in protein, containing just 1 gram per cup" (Self and ABC News).
Drinking coffee has several benefits including providing for polyphenols - along with antioxidant and “defense against ultraviolet radiation [and] aggression by pathogens ... long term consumption of diets rich in plant polyphenols offer protection against development of cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis and neurodegenerative diseases” (NIH). According to Dr. Steven Gundry, unfortunately taking your coffee with regular milk is not a good idea; “the polyphenols in coffee are so important and you can't put milk in coffee because it binds with the polyphenol. You can put coconut milk instead” (Goop Podcast).
“Coconut milk is expressed from coconut meat, and while it adds creaminess to dishes like curries and soups, you won’t want to gulp it down by the glass” (Livestrong).
“The high levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important in this milk variety, as both of these compounds are linked to boosts in cognitive performance , concentration and memory, making this a popular beverage for older people who are at higher risk for neurodegenerative diseases” (Organic Facts).
“This has a very distinct flavor that isn't for everyone. It might not be the one you choose to put over cereal” (Heathy Eating and Living)
"Oat milk retains the health benefits that oats have. Like whole grain oats, oat milk is high in fiber, lowers cholesterol and does a better job of increasing endurance levels than energy drinks" (This Mama Cooks).
"Some oat milk brands or varieties can have high levels of sugar" (This Mama Cooks).