We humans starting our animal milk consuming journey roughly 7,000 years ago. The first people to drink milk regularly were early farmers and pastoralists in western Europe – some of the first humans to live with domesticated animals. And since then, the genetics of certain populations of people evolved to keep their lactase enzyme active so as to be able to digest milk.
But alas, not everyone's genetics did this. And so the lactose intolerant bravely moved forward, testing their boundaries with a little ice cream here, maybe some cheese there. Brief moments of joy, followed by many moments of pain.
Today, there are so many alternative choices for those wanting the milk experience without the harrowing aftermath. Let's explore some of the more popular milk alternatives, or rather the more popular mylks.
First, homemade is always the best. You know exactly what goes into it and there is minimal processing.
Second, whether choosing plant based mylks for digestive or ethical reasons, the most important thing to be on the look out for when choosing any of them is the quality of the mylk source and of the added ingredients. Always read the ingredient list, no matter what the front label says or what health food store you may be buying it from.
Third, make sure your mylk of choice does not contain sugar. Or if it does, it is minimal. Remember the suggested maximum amount of sugar per day is 6 teaspoons (30 grams) for women and 9 teaspoons (45 grams) for men.
Lastly, just say no to anything with carageenan. This additive is used to thicken and stabilize food products, including mylks. Various sources claim that many individuals experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms (ranging from mild bloating to irritable bowel syndrome to severe inflammatory bowel disease) have noticed that eliminating carrageenan from the diet leads to profound improvements in their gastrointestinal health.
According to research published by The Cornucopia Institute, “Animal studies have repeatedly shown that food-grade carrageenan causes gastrointestinal inflammation and higher rates of intestinal lesions, ulcerations, and even malignant tumors.”
Let's Look at the Mylks
Remember, with any of the Mylks, you are consuming large quantities of that mylks' main ingredient. Would you normally eat that many soybeans, nuts or seeds in a day? A week? A month? Consider the effects of consuming these larger quantities when evaluating the health benefits and studies of that particular main ingredient.
For the most benefit, always choose organic. If not, you'll be getting mylks made with ingredients that are genetically modified and/or sprayed with many chemicals.
Soy - The Grande Dame of Milk Alternatives: Approximate Nutritional Content, per 1 cup: 4–4.5g of fat, 7–9g of protein, 6-16g of carbohydrates, Sodium 132 mg, contains all nine essential amino acids
Pros: Rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid required for
proper daily bodily function. May improve menopause symptoms. Source of protein. improves muscle mass. May reduce oxidative stress and cell damage, a study suggests that it may be beneficial in preventing liver damage caused by oxidative stress.
Cons: High levels of phytic acid in soy reduce assimilation of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. Soy phytoestrogens are potent anti-thyroid agents that may cause hypothyroidism and may cause thyroid cancer. In infants, consumption of soy formula has been linked to autoimmune thyroid disease. Soy milk contains the female hormone estrogen mimicking compound called isoflavones. These compounds are known to be linked to diseases like leukemia and breast cancer. Can acidify the body. Has to be fortified (added separately) to contain certain vitamins.
Almond: Approximate Nutritional Content, per 1 cup, 1-14g Carbs , 2.5g of fat,
1g of protein
Pros: Rich in other key nutrients like magnesium, potassium, calcium, protein, fiber, and vitamin E. Free from cholesterol, as well as lactose. Low in sodium. Low carb (if unsweetened).
Cons: Almonds are considered as goitrogenic food. It contains the chemicals that harm the thyroid gland. Contains phytic acid, a substance that binds to iron, zinc and calcium to reduce their absorption in the body. A study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that for each cup of non-cow's milk children drank per day, they were 0.4 centimeters shorter than the average for their age. Height is an important indicator of a child's overall health. Has to be fortified (added separately) to contain certain vitamins.
Cashew: Approximate Nutritional Content, per 1 cup, 2–4g of fat, 0–1g of protein,
1–2g of carbohydrate, Sodium160mg
Pros: Contains Lutein and Zeaxanthin which tend to be good for eye health. Contains Anacardic acid, which may have anti-cancer effects. High in vitamin K -may aid blood clotting. Rich in copper which may help skin health.
Cons: Because of vitamin K content, may interfere with blood thinning medications. Contains very little protein. Has to be fortified (added separately) to contain certain vitamins.
Coconut: Approximate Nutritional Content, per 1 cup, 4g of fat,
no protein, almost no carbohydrates
Pros: Great source of of lauric acid, a type of fat that has antibacterial and antiviral properties. Contains MCT fatty acids help increase energy expenditure and even enhance physical performance. Contains important minerals like potassium and magnesium that are needed to maintain blood volume, regulate heart health, and prevent dehydration or diarrhea. May help improve digestion, manage blood sugar, supply iron to help prevent anemia, reduce inflammation, and fight ulcers.
Cons: Some of the minerals found in coconut milk could potentially interact with certain health conditions. As an example, people with kidney disease need to be careful about how much potassium they obtain from foods. Has to be fortified (added separately) to contain certain vitamins.
Flax: Approximate Nutritional Content, per 1 cup, 2.5g of fat, 1g carbohydrate, 0g protein
Pros: Contains omega-3 fatty acids that has been shown to help prevent cancer, diabetes, heart disease and strokes.
Cons: Does not contain protein. Has to be fortified (added separately) to contain certain vitamins.
Rice: Approximate Nutritional Content, per 1 cup, 2–3g of fat,1g of protein, 27–38g of carbohydrates
Pros: Good source of B vitamins
Cons: The high glycemic index (GI) of 79–92, quickly raises blood sugar levels. Not ideal for Diabetics. Low calcium. Has to be fortified (added separately) to contain certain vitamins.
Hemp: Approximate Nutritional Content, per 1 cup, 4.5–8g of fat, 2–3g of protein,
0–1g of carbohydrates
Pros: Contains linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3), which are essential for building new tissue and membranes in the body. Provides protein that is easily digested.
Cons: Phytic acid content can interfere with absorption of iron and zinc. Tannins and saponins in hemp can cause stomach ache. Has to be fortified (added separately) to contain certain vitamins.
Oat: Approximate Nutritional Content, per 1 cup, 4.5–5g of fat,
2.5–5g of protein, 19–29g of carbohydrates
Pros: Contains iron which can help with anemia. Oats are well-known for their heart-healthy benefits and ability to keep cholesterol levels in check.
Cons: Many oat milk contains pesticides. The USDA has found up to three different kinds of pesticide residue on oats that manufacturers use in oat milk. Oats are naturally gluten-free, they are often processed in facilities that also process other gluten-containing grains like wheat or barley, resulting in cross-contamination. Has to be fortified (added separately) to contain certain vitamins.
Hopefully this will be a good starting point to figure our which milk alternative could be of most benefit to you. As with everything, even though it may be good for the general population, and the studies state it has many benefits, it may not be good for your body.