Do you remember when your only milk options were red cap (whole milk) or blue (low-fat)? Ah yes, the good ole’ days. Well times have changed. Now you are faced with hundreds of decisions when choosing something as simple as milk: dairy-free? lactose-free? sugar-free? nut-free? organic? It’s easy to see how all of these options could leave your mind spinning. Upon talking with some of my very smart friends I realized there is a lot of milk confusion out there and I am here to help clear it up.
Cow Milk. Humans have been drinking cow milk for over 7,000 years. Cow milk is very nutrient-dense providing 8 grams of protein, 33% of the daily value of calcium, vitamins A and D (Added), fat, and carbohydrates. For years, cow milk was our only choice and we didn’t question it. However, in recent years there have been growing concerns over drinking cow milk. What about the hormones? Do I need to buy organic? How do they remove the lactose?
If you are concerned about added hormones or antibiotics you should consider buying organic milk. In order to be certified organic the cow must be fed an organic diet which excludes antibiotics and bovine growth hormone (BGH or rBST). BGH allows the cow to produce more milk faster (making the farmer happy; the cow, probably not happy). However, it is worth noting that ALL milk (organic and conventional) is tested for any detectable levels of antibiotics and is thrown out if found to be positive. Additionally, one common concern such as pre-mature puberty in girls has never been linked to milk consumption.
Lactaid milk has the milk sugar lactose already broken down so it is easier to digest. This is a really simple process that is achieved by adding the enzyme lactase to milk. Babies have the enzyme lactase which does this for them, but many children and adults lose this enzyme as they get older and will become lactose intolerant. If you are lactose intolerant Lactaid milk is a good option. Or you can choose from one of the many non-dairy milks discussed below.
One last note on cow milk. Pasteurization is a good thing. Pasteurization is simply the process of heating milk (or any food/liquid) to kill 99% of the bacteria. If you live on a farm and want to drink raw milk, go for it. For the 99% of us that don’t live on farms you will be far safer drinking pasteurized milk. And no, pasteurization does not kill the healthy nutrients in your milk.
Whew, that was ALOT. Next up – Almond Milk.
Almond Milk. Almond milk is a good alternative if you want a plant-based source of calcium. It’s great for smoothies, pancakes, coffee-creamer etc. However, it is not nutritionally equivalent to cow milk. Almond milk is low in protein, calories (depending if you get original or sweetened), and fat. If you are looking to reduce your calorie intake this might be the best choice for you. If you are looking to fatten up your children it may not be the best option. Recently, there was an incident where a toddler developed scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) from being given almond milk instead of breast milk or formula. He was given almond milk from the time he was 2 months old (when babies really depend on the fat and protein in milk). Almond milk is not nutritionally complete, please do not give it to infants as their sole source of nutrition!
Another consideration with almond milk is carageenan. Carageenan is a really scary word to some people (thanks for the fear mongering, Food Babe). Carageenan is a polysaccharide (a type of carbohydrate) that is extracted from seaweed. There are two types of carrageenan, degraded carrageenan and undegraded. In 2001 one study showed that rats fed degraded carrageenan developed ulcers and intestinal damage. However, it is important to keep in mind that undegraded carrageenan is used in our food supply (not the type tested in this study). Undegraded carageenan has been used as a thickener and stabilizer in food since the 1930’s and it is approved as safe by the FDA and the World Health Organization.
If you are still questioning the safety of carrageenan, I have great news! Many nut milks have removed it from their product. Both Silk and Almond Breeze are no longer using carrageenan. Yep, go check the ingredient list on your almond milk, I bet you won’t find carrageenan (actually I’m only making this claim for the U.S., for my Canadian and Aussie readers I’m not promising you anything). Instead of carrageenan many milk companies are using gellan gum as a stabilizer, there is currently no controversy (to my knowledge) over gellan gum.
Alright friends, we just barely scraped the surface of plant-based milk. Tomorrow look for round two featuring soy milk, the ever popular coconut milk, rice milk and more!