Plant-based Milks: are they really good for us

Long gone are the days of only seeing whole, 2% or skim milk lining the refrigerator shelves at the local grocery store. These days consumers have the option of choosing from a wide variety of plant-based, non-dairy alternatives to the traditional collection of dairy milk.

Healthy Eating

Cortney Good
Desiree Abecassis
@AVogel_ca


13 August 2019

Why would someone choose to drink plant-based Milk?

Some people, rather than choosing to drink plant based milk as a passing fad, actually make this choice for medical or health reasons. Many are lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy that makes the consumption of cow's milk less than ideal.
The industry has responded to demands for healthy, milk alternatives by producing a wide array of plant-based milks that are, in fact, the product of plant sources.
The pros and cons of drinking plant-based milk can vary based on your milk of choice, but each version has its nutritional benefits, some more than others.

Is drinking plant-Based milk better than cow's milk?

The answer to this question is a bit tricky. It depends on what your ultimate goals are in consuming either product. Plant-based milk is an excellent alternative for those who are lactose-or dairy intolerant and offers a variety of health benefits. This consideration, coupled with that of producing a lower carbon footprint than dairy milk, makes it an appealing option.
Also, some cow's milk may be derived from cows treated with hormones and antibiotics.
When considering nut or legume based plant based milks, if you are allergic to almonds or soy, you may consider drinking a non-dairy grain or seed based one such as oat or flax or even organic dairy milk. Dairy milk does provide a rich source of calcium, phosphorous, vitamin D, and protein.
Both versions of milk offer the body a unique spectrum of health benefits, and you will have to decide which option best suits your needs.

Which Plant-Based Milk is Best?

There are dozens of plant-based milks on the market these days. Pinpointing which one is best will undoubtedly vary from individual to individual as we all have unique tastes, dietary preferences and physiological needs. What one person finds palatable may not align with another person's preferences when it comes to some plant-based milks.
When it comes down to selecting a plant based milk of choice, the possibilities are vast. This is just a short list of alternative milks that can be found at health food stores and even some grocery stores:

  • Soy
  • Almond
  • Coconut
  • Cashew
  • Rice
  • Oat
  • Flax
  • Hemp
  • Sunflower
  • Hazelnut

Among this list of plant-based milk, almond and soy milk are among the most common milk substitutes.

Soy Milk

Soy milk is a fantastic, plant-based alternative. It contains a vital source of protein, vitamin A, vitamin B, isoflavones calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and fat. Additionally, soy milk offers a wide variety of health benefits, including but not limited to:

  • Helps to reduce inflammation
  • Significant antioxidant value
  • Helps to relieve menopausal symptoms
  • Helps to reduce LDL cholesterol

Although soy milk is a good option for some, others with an already compromised digestive system may have a difficult time with this milk considering it is extracted from a legume. If you notice that your digestive system does not agree with it (minor gas, bloating), consider a nut, grain or seed based milk instead.

Almond Milk and Its Impact on the Environment

Almond milk is a popular choice due to its numerous health benefits.
It contributes to:

  • Strong bones
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Healthy skin
  • Stable blood pressure
  • Good kidney function
  • Strong vision

Almond milk is the product of almonds, which makes it low in fat, but high in protein. It contains an excellent blend of nutrients that contribute to a healthy body including but not limited to:

  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Zinc
  • Folate
  • Vitamin C, B6, E

Another positive health benefit? Almond milk does not contain saturated fat, and it is lactose-free.
One consideration when thinking about environmental sustainability:
Some people choose to drink almond milk because of its reduced carbon footprint as compared to cow's milk, but according to the University of California in San Francisco, almond milk also impacts the environment and may take a toll in other ways (2).
Almond milk is produced from filtered water and almonds. Concerns with almond milk production include pesticide and water use. These chemicals can have a vast impact on the environment and in the state of California, where 80 % of the world's supply of almonds are harvested. The farms where almonds grow in the state of California have been reported as sinking due to groundwater depletion. Additionally, pesticides drain into the water, creating a toxic water environment.
If your motive for consuming almond milk is to reduce your carbon footprint, almond milk may not be the way to go due to its impact on the environment.

Ways to Add Plant-Based Milk to Your Daily Regimen

Plant-based milk is relatively easy to incorporate into your regimen. There are no hard fast rules for how to consume plant-based milk. You can enjoy this milk in a variety of ways:

  • Added to smoothies
  • Add it to coffee or tea
  • Cereal or oatmeal
  • A stand-alone glass of milk in place of your cow's milk
  • Dessert recipes

Should You Make your own Nut-Milk?

Plant-based milks are relatively easy to make. Almond milk for example, only requires two ingredients –almonds and water. Making hemp seed milk or cashew milk is even easier because you don't need to strain out the pulp! If your goal is to avoid ingredients like gellan gum, sunflower lecithin or potassium citrate that may be added to store-bought milk, the homemade route may be a preferred option.
However, the process itself may cost more than purchasing your milk from the store. If you are on a tight budget, store-bought may be the way to go, but if your goal is to avoid the additional additives, move a bit closer to nature, and experience the amazing taste of homemade plant based milks, making your own could be a winning option for you. In this article we give you the exact step-by-step instructions for making your own almond milk. Keep in mind that you can adjust the recipe a bit to your liking so for a creamier milk, you'd add less water and for a thinner version, you'd add more water
Enjoy the recipe! Once you make it you'll be ready to enjoy your own freshly made almond milk.

In Closing

When it comes to selecting your milk of choice, there are several options you can choose from. You must first decide whether you'd like to consume dairy or plant based milk or a combination of the two depending on your health circumstances and preference. If you do decide to consume a plant, nut, seed or grain based milk, it comes down to choosing the one which best suits your needs. As discussed, plant-based milks do have health benefits as a rich source of antioxidants, minerals, and other vital nutrients that can boost ones overall state of health. Take your time to find the plant-based milk options that work best for you and experiment with making your own as you'll see how tasty and easy they are to make.

Sources

1. Vanga, S. K., & Raghavan, V. (2018). How well do plant-based alternatives fare nutritionally compared to cow's milk?. Journal of food science and technology, 55(1), 10–20. doi:10.1007/s13197-017-2915-y
2. The University of California, San Francisco (2018). Almond Milk is Taking a Toll on the Environment
3. Organic Facts. 10 Best Health Benefits of Almond Milk. Retrieved June 19, 2019.