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Posted on: July 12, 2018 at 1:23 pm
Last updated: July 19, 2018 at 11:40 am

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Interest in dairy products is declining. Whether it’s a conscious choice to avoid animal products or a decision based on health needs, the consumer has spoken. According to a recent report from the research firm Mintel, plant-based milk sales have increased 61% in the U.S., while dairy sales have decreased by 15%. (1)

In Canada, milk consumption has dropped 21.5% over a ten year period. Plant milks are becoming so popular that Saputo, Canada’s largest dairy processor is also interested in getting into plant-based milks. (2, 3)

The Word “Milk” Becomes Controversial

Sales have increased so dramatically for dairy-free milks that even the word milk has become controversial. In 2016 thirty-two members of the U.S. Congress wrote a letter to the FDA calling on them to require plant-based milk manufacturers to find a name other than milk for their product labels. (4) Federal courts did rule against those efforts under the belief that any reasonable consumer understands that there is no dairy element in plant-based milks.

This is a non-issue for Canadians as non-dairy drinks can’t be labelled as milk. FDA regulation specify that milk “comes from the lacteal secretion obtained from the mammary gland of a cow.” (5)

Milk Isn’t an Option for Everyone

There are numerous reasons people are switching to dairy free alternatives.

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Conscious Choice-Many people choose not to consume dairy products.

Milk Allergy-Cow’s milk allergy is the most common allergy in young children, affecting 2-3% of infants and young children. (6, 7)

Lactose Intolerance– It’s estimated that 75% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant. (8)

Health Concerns-Many health issues are connected with the consumption of dairy products including diabetes, increased risk of prostate and ovarian cancers. (9, 10)

Antibiotic Resistance-In addition people are also concerned about the increase of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the food chain. (11) The CDC reports that in the U.S. alone over two million people a year get infections that are antibiotic resistant (25). In addition the Natural Resources Defense Council estimated that that 80% of the antibiotics sold are used on healthy animals to prevent disease (26), so perhaps antibiotic resistance is not so surprising after all.

For many years cow milk was the only option available to consumers. Thankfully for vegans and those who are dairy intolerant, times have changed. Whereas twenty years ago the only non-dairy options were soy, rice and almond milk, there are now a wide range of non-dairy milks available in stores nationwide and online, made from grains, seeds, nuts and legumes.

Plant Milk Pros & Cons

To ensure the freshest, most flavorful milk, the healthiest choice will always be to make your milk at home. Plant milks made at home will have a higher nutrient value than store bought… there is no skimping on the ingredients, no fillers and you are drinking it within a short time of making it. If you prefer to buy pre made milks, it is still important to read labels as many commercially made milks have added sugars, flavors and thickeners. So if you buy commercially made milk, be sure to check the label first.

Almond Milk

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Pro- This milk is low in fat, but high in iron, calcium, zinc, potassium, sodium, phosphorous and magnesium. Almond milk is also rich in vitamin C, B6, E, thiamine, riboflavin, folate and niacin. Almonds contain monounsaturated fats, which can help lower the risk of endometrial cancer, as well as protect against coronary heart disease. Vitamin E, such as what is found in almonds may also help to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. (12, 13, 14, 15)

Con- Not a good choice for anyone with nut allergies. Many commercial brands skimp on almonds. Most are only 2.5% almonds, which is the equivalent of 5 almonds in 350 ml glass. Almonds also contain phytic acid which can limit the bodies’ absorption of calcium, iron and zinc. You can avoid this buy making your own milk and soaking the nuts first. If you have nut allergies or issues with histamine, nuts should be avoided.

Cashew Milk

Pro-Cashew milk tastes less nutty than almond and is a bit sweeter. It is very creamy and is great in smoothies, desserts, dressings, cereal and more. Due to their high nutrient and mineral levels, cashews, like many nuts are often recommended for heart health. Cashews help to fight heart disease, gallstones and help maintain healthy bones due to their levels of calcium, magnesium and potassium. (16)

Con-If you have nut allergies or issues with histamine, nuts should be avoided.

Soy Milk

Pro- This is a close substitute for dairy milk and has a very high protein level and provides all of the essential amino acids. It’s also available in regular, low fat and fat free varieties which refer to the available fat content. This has a good amount of calcium and is low in fat. Soy milk can help to lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. (17)

Con- Most soybeans are grown from GMO seeds, be sure to buy organic only. An additional concern with soy is the high amount of isoflavons in soy. This is also not a healthy option for those with FODMAP intolerance. In addition the phytic acid reduces mineral absorption. Be sure it’s made with whole soy beans rather than soy bean isolate or isolated soy protein.

Hemp Milk

Pro-Another good option for those with nut allergies. A cup of hemp milk provides nearly half of daily calcium requirements. Hemp also contains iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc, as well as a number of healthy fats, omega 3’s and omega 6. Hemp also has anti-arthritic benefits, can improve cardiovascular health and is nourishing for skin, hair and nails. (18, 19, 20, 21)

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Con-There really isn’t a down side to hemp milk.

Rice Milk

Pro-This is a great option for those with nut allergies. This is a low allergen option compared to nut milks. Sweeter taste, best used in cereals, or baked dishes. Not as creamy as some others, so I wouldn’t use in coffee, teas, or soups. Rice milk has no cholesterol, making it a heart healthy choice, it is also easy on the digestive system.

Con- Much higher in carbohydrates/calories (even if unsweetened). Be sure it’s made with whole rice and not rice protein. Many brands add sweeteners, be sure to read the label. Arsenic can also be present in rice, as it is in water and soil, it is also the result of contamination from mining and the use of arsenic-containing pesticides. Arsenic can be absorbed by some crops as they grow (22).

Coconut Milk

Pro-This milk is a great option for desserts, curries, and smoothies. Coconut milk has numerous health benefits including lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, it contains MCTs for brain health and can help with weight loss. The electrolytes and healthy fats are also beneficial for gut health. (23, 24)

Con-Coconut milk does have a higher saturated fat content than other milks. It is also a less harmful fat than other types of saturated fats you’d find in cow’s milk, cheeses and fatty cuts of red meats

Shopping Tips for Non-dairy Milk

  1. Read the label. Avoid sweeteners, thickeners and additives, especially in flavored varieties. Many commercially made milks use tapioca, carrageenan or guar gum to give their milks a creamier texture.
  2. Different milks for different recipes. Non-dairy milks are great with numerous baked and raw recipes, as well as with your morning granola or tea. Creamier milks like cashew are great to thicken sauces and gravies, as opposed to a thinner milk like rice. Most manufacturers offer tips on their websites.
  3. Shake before drinking. Milks can settle or separate depending on the additives or lack thereof, give your milk a shake before pouring.

Five Quick and Easy Non-Dairy Milk Recipes

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All of these milks are super easy to make at home with the help of a high-speed blender. Straining the milk is optional and a matter of preference. Sweeteners fall into the same category. If you plan on using the milk in a recipe, you may prefer to keep it plain. If not, you might want to sweeten it to your taste preference with pitted dates, coconut sugar, honey, stevia or some other sweetener.

You can also take your milks to the next level by blending them with fruit, or adding some superfoods such as turmeric, maca or lucuma. What milk will you try first?

Almond-Soak one cup of almonds overnight to remove phytic acid. For a whiter smoother milk, peel the almond skins off with your fingers. Add almonds to a high-speed blender with three cups of water. Blend on high speed for two minutes. Strain through cheesecloth or a nut milk bag if desired. Store in an airtight container. Stays fresh in your refrigerator for 3-4 days.

Cashew– Soak one cup of cashews overnight. Add cashews to a high-speed blender with three cups of water. Blend on high speed for two minutes. Strain through cheesecloth or a nut milk bag if desired. Store in an airtight container. Stays fresh in your refrigerator for 3-4 days.

Hemp-Add ½ cup of shelled hemp seed and 2.5 cups of water to a high-speed blender. Blend till smooth. Strain through cheesecloth or a nut milk bag if desired. Store in an airtight container. Stays fresh in your refrigerator for 3-4 days.

Rice-Add ½ cup of cooked rice and 2 cups water to a high-speed blender. Blend till smooth. Strain through cheesecloth into an airtight container. Stays fresh in your refrigerator for 3-4 days.

Coconut-Add one cup of plain dried coconut flakes to a high-speed blender. Add one and half cups of water to blender. Blend on high speed for one minute. Pour into a nut milk bag over a bowl and allow to cool slightly so you don’t burn your hands when you are squeezing the milk out of the bag. Stays fresh in your refrigerator for 3-4 days.

For step by step directions with photos:

Almond Milk

Coconut Milk

This guest post was written by Elisha of My Health Maven. She is deeply passionate about educating people and empowering them to lead healthier lives. We encourage you to check out her blog and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest!

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Elisha McFarland
Health Expert
Elisha McFarland, N.D. is the founder of My Health Maven. She turned her debilitating illness from mercury poisoning into a dedicated passion for helping people.

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