BY DR LYDIA THURTON
Cow’s milk consumption is on a dramatic decline. Surveys of Canadian households revealed that many of us want vegan options, we are concerned about the welfare of dairy cows and feel as though there are healthier options to diary milk. People of African and South East Asian descent are genetically predisposed to lactose intolerance. The gas and bloating can make it an easy decision to switch to a vegetarian milk. Let’s assess the options.
For Canadians in the middle of the 20th century, milk provided easy nutrition. It has a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fat, calcium, vitamin D, B12 and B2. So, if we are swapping our milk out for nut, rice, coconut and soy alternatives we should stack them up head to head with a cup of cow’s milk.
Soy milk is a tried and true alternative to cow’s milk. There was some concern about the plant estrogens, called phytoestrogens and isoflavones, in soy but research has shown that there’s no reason to worry about hormone trouble or cancer from plant products. In fact, isoflavones decrease one’s risk of heart disease and breast cancer. Soy milk is the most protein rich of all of the non-dairy milks. With a thick consistency and a rich flavour soy milk can be very tasty. Choose non-GMO, unflavoured, unsweetened as soy milk since it has more calories than many other milks. As a good source of protein and B vitamins, like folic acid, it is not a bad choice.
Almond milk sales have exploded. This low calorie alternative to cow’s milk contains vitamin E and is a rare source of vitamin D as well. Unfortified almond milk has almost no calcium or protein. This is one product you may be better off purchasing at the grocery store than making yourself. Cashew and hazelnut round out the other nut milk alternatives. Similar in calories and protein, try all three and see which tastes best to you. Cashew milk has the least nutty flavour.
Rice milk is the least likely to cause an allergic reaction. It’s a great alternative for kids that have multiple sensitivities. Rice milk is watery and lacks nutrients, so look for an enriched rice milk with protein and vitamins. Without a balance of protein, rice milk is a sugary, low fat milk alternative. Rice milk does not fare well in baking or cooking.
Coconut milk has the most similar consistency to cow’s milk because of its fat content. However, beyond the fats it’s quite dissimilar to the cow version. Cow’s milk has three times the calcium and much more protein. Coconut milk is a source of healthy medium chain triglycerides a type of fat that your body can easily absorb and use for fuel. Coconut milk is a great source of potassium making it a good choice for workout smoothies mixed with protein powder.
Unlike in the United States, Canadian dairy farmers are prohibited from using hormones and antibiotics in cows actively producing milk. However, the fact remains that raising dairy cows requires a lot of resources and is a detriment to the environment. When we can switch to plant based products we are helping the Earth.