Ever stare at the menu of your favorite coffee shop and wonder when it got so fancy? Your once-standard latte can now be made with milks like soy, coconut, almond, oat, flax, cashew…you get the idea. Milk alternatives are on the rise, and for good reason. The health benefits that come along with swapping your daily creamer for a non-dairy alternative are worth taking the time to learn about. Plus, steering away from dairy can impact our planet for good, too. Switching to a milk alternative can seem like a daunting task at first, but incorporating it into your daily life in small ways can help you dip your straw into the glass of healthier and more sustainable living.
So, first thing’s first. What’s so bad about dairy? Let’s graze a bit, shall we?
Cows drink cow milk. Goats drink goat milk. Humans drink breast milk after birth – but we also drink the milk of other animals, such as cows, long past infancy. Humans are the only species that drink milk from a species other than their own. In fact, our bodies aren’t exactly cut out for processing the enzymes in dairy milk, which is a contributing factor to the growing cases of dairy sensitivity and lactose intolerance worldwide – and why many are making the switch to a plant-based milk alternative.
It is estimated that around 30 million to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Milk alternatives tend to be much gentler on the digestive system, much in part because they don’t contain lactose found in dairy milk. If you’ve ever found yourself experiencing cramps, an upset stomach, bloating, or even diarrhea after digesting milk, you might want to consider making the switch to a plant-based milk alternative.
In addition to allergies, it is important to note what exactly goes on in our dairy industry, and during the process of getting the milk we drink from cows. In the dairy industry, it is common practice to give cows hormones and feed them genetically modified corn so they can in turn produce more milk, and keep up with our country’s dairy demand. These hormones and genetically modified foods end up in the finished product – the milk we ingest every day. While there are organic dairy milks out there, it’s hard to refute all of the benefits that plant-based milk alternatives have to offer the human body.
Which leads us to another pasture…
Did a loved one ever remind you during your childhood to drink milk for strong bones and calcium? While this age-old adage has truth to it, milk alternatives offer a variety of health benefits as well. With a myriad of non-dairy milk options to choose from nowadays, each one offers its own unique set of health benefits.
Firstly, if you’re someone who’s keeping an eye on their calorie intake, a milk alternative might be your new secret weapon. Most contain significantly fewer calories than dairy milk, and even fewer carbs, too. While there’s low fat and skim milk, non-dairy milks tend to offer a richer, more flavorful taste (which is a “win-win” in our book.) If you’re looking for a starting point, try out unsweetened almond or cashew milk, as its rich, dense texture most closely emulates that of whole milk.
Sugar is another key factor that sets milk alternatives apart from the rest. They’re typically much lower in sugar than dairy milk, and if unsweetened, contain natural sugars derived from nuts or seeds. In dairy milk, its sugar content comes from lactose. This can trigger allergies, stomach issues, and bloating, among many other things. However, plant-based milks remain relatively low in sugar due to the lack of lactose, which is why they tend to have a much gentler impact on the digestive system. Some plant-based milks, such as cashew, even have a naturally sweet taste to them, so you won’t sacrifice any flavor when picking up the unsweetened version.
Lastly, eliminating dairy from your diet can help improve your skin’s health, too. The significant amount of hormones and sugars that are commonly found in dairy milk can contribute to stubborn acne and eczema outbreaks. Additionally, plant-based milk alternatives are naturally more hydrating, keeping your skin healthy and glowing all day. If you suffer from eczema or acne, switching to a plant-based milk alternative may help relieve these skin issues.
So the next time you visit your local coffee shop or peruse down the grocery aisle, take a gander at the different dairy-free milks in stock and give one a shot. Who knows? You might just find your new favorite refrigerator staple that’s also kind to your body.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons