May 02 2021

Dairy Alternatives are Not Just for the Lactose Intolerant.

Published by at 12:59 pm under Allergies

Dairy Alternatives are Not Just for the Lactose Intolerant.

While having a food allergy or intolerance can be a nuisance, there are plenty of alternatives that are not only healthier for you but also for the planet.

Over the past couple of blogs, we talked about environmental and food allergies and the difference between food allergies and food intolerances. This time, let’s look at one of the most common foods to which people develop an intolerance over time. Dairy. We’ll also explore the many milk substitutes available to you that are nutritious and delicious and better for our bodies and the planet than cow’s milk.*

Food allergies are nothing to play around with. One can develop hives, nausea, swelling, and diarrhea. A severe allergic reaction can cause the body to go into anaphylactic shock, which is a dangerous medical condition. Allergies to cow’s milk typically show up during infancy and affect approximately 3% of infants worldwide. Most children usually outgrow it by the age of six. While some adults have a milk allergy, it is pretty uncommon with just 1% of people over the age of six affected by this allergy. If a person has a milk allergy, as with any serious food allergy, they must avoid all foods and beverages that contain cow’s milk to prevent allergic reactions. 1*

 What many adults experience when it comes to dairy is an intolerance to lactose. Approximately 68% of people worldwide poorly digest lactose, with a greater prevalence of lactose intolerance among individuals in Asian and African countries.  Other common food intolerances include gluten and alcohol. Lactose intolerance is caused by the decreased production of lactase as we age, which is a protein that breaks down lactose, the sugar in milk. Past childhood, many people stop producing this protein. It is genetic, so if your parents tolerate lactose just fine, chances are you will too. (1,2)*

When one is lactose intolerant, you don’t have to avoid all dairy, but when it is consumed, it usually results in minor, yet uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea.  Many people avoid dairy for these reasons. The good news is there are many options available in the form of milk alternatives. From soy to hemp to oat and many others, there are lots of dairy substitutes to choose from. Let’s look at what these are and how they compare to the real thing. 1*

Keep in mind you don’t need to be lactose intolerant to choose plant-based milk alternatives. Perhaps you are a vegan. They are a healthier alternative when it comes to heart disease and cholesterol. They are also much better for the environment. “…A 2018 study by researchers at the University of Oxford showed that producing a glass of dairy milk results in almost three times more greenhouse gas emissions than any plant-based milk and it consumes nine times more land than any of the milk alternatives. (Land is required to pasture the cows and grow their feed, which the animals belch out in the form of methane….”(1,3)

There is a caveat here and that is that within the plant-based milk family, there are heroes and zeros as well. Some require growing methods that are less favorable to the environment than others but we will cover that in the blog following this one. For now, let’s look at the different milk alternatives and their overall health benefits and keep in mind, all milk alternatives are far better for the planet than dairy.). 4*

Soy milk

Due to its high protein content, soy milk is the most nutritionally equivalent milk substitute to cow’s milk out of all the plant-based dairy alternatives available. They make it by soaking soybeans in water, followed by grinding them down, boiling, and then filtering the liquid. 1*

Most people can drink soy milk along with other soy-based products except those who are allergic to soy, and therefore should avoid soy products altogether (as with any food allergy). While 94% of the soy grown in the US is genetically modified, there are many organically grown soy products to choose from. Silk, a popular brand of soymilk is non-GMO. Plain, unsweetened soy milk is great for cooking as well. You can use it just like cow’s milk, and it is wonderful for frothing to make a cappuccino or caffe latte. 1* 

Decades of research show the many health-promoting benefits of regular soy consumption such as lower incidences of chronic health conditions like cardiovascular disease, breast and prostate cancers. There has been some concern regarding the “estrogen-like compounds” called isoflavones, which are found in soy though it has been inconclusive and determined one would have to consume extremely high quantities of soy to have this made a difference. There is also some research that suggests that soy milk may be “…contraindicated for individuals with thyroid conditions, such as hypothyroidism…” although that evidence is also inconclusive.  1*

Hemp milk

Hemp milk is sourced from hemp plants which are hearty plants that grow quickly and hold many nutritional qualities. They make it from grinding up the hemp seeds which are protein-packed seeds that are rich in heart-healthy fats. According to one analysis, hemp milk contains the highest amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids per serving of any of the non-dairy beverages. 1*

You can use hemp milk similarly to cow’s milk–enjoy with your coffee or tea, pour it into cold cereals, or use it in baking.

Oat milk

Another great alternative to cow’s milk is Oat Milk. It is one of the newer plant-based beverages to show up on grocery store shelves. Creamy and slightly sweet, it is made by blending oats with water and straining out the solids. It does contain more carbohydrates than most of the other milk alternatives because it is made from grains, but the heart health-promoting properties attributed to their fiber content make up for it!. “…One study demonstrated that daily consumption of oat milk for a five-week period significantly reduced total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels in men with moderate hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) compared to a control beverage…” Oat milk is great for making lattes because it froths really well and can be used in recipes. 1*


Almond, Cashew, and other nut milk

Almond milk is produced by soaking, then grinding almonds in water followed by filtering out the solids. Almond milk has become one of the most popular milk alternatives in all of North America. People like it for its mild flavor and low-calorie content. It contains very little protein, and it is very different from cow’s milk nutritionally, so it (along with other nut milk) is fortified with additional minerals and Vitamins, such as A, B12, D, E, and calcium. Other nut-based nondairy beverages including cashew, macadamia, and hazelnut milk have similar nutritional profiles. Cashew milk is a little thicker, making it a great option for using in lattes or smoothies, great with cereal or oatmeal. 1*

There is a downside to almond milk though. With the increased almond milk production due to high consumer demand, there have been some serious environmental concerns caused by the high volume of water needed to grow almond trees. “…Over 80% of the world’s almonds are produced in drought-prone regions of California, leading to drained aquifers, increased use of herbicides, and consequently, a dramatic reduction of honeybee populations…” For these reasons, you may consider other daily alternatives that are less harmful to the environment.  We will look at this issue more in the next blog.1*

Rice milk

Another milk made from grain is rice milk. Its white milky liquid is made by mixing milled rice and water. Its flavor is mild and sweet and it is one of the least allergenic non-dairy substitutes. For those with multiple food allergies or sensitivities, this is s a great alternative. In contrast to cow’s milk, rice milk contains high amounts of carbohydrates and low amounts of protein and fat. It is the least nutritional of the milk. 1*

Coconut milk

Another alternative is coconut milk, which is produced by first grating the white flesh of the coconut then mixing it with hot water. Coconut milk has a nice flavor and if you go full fat out of the can, it can add richness and flavor to many dishes such as soups and curry-based dishes. Canned coconut milk is a mixture of solid and water coconut milk and contains a higher fat content, while coconut milk found in a milk carton offers a different taste, consistency and contains more water, and provides fewer calories and grams of fat per serving. It is low in protein but high in minerals including potassium and magnesium. 1*

Aside from milk, for the lactose intolerant, there are other forms of dairy that seem to be lower in lactose and therefore more tolerable. Some of these are aged cheddar (aged 6 months and older), Greek yogurt, or another yogurt with live active cultures or probiotics. Butter is nearly lactose-free, but does have whey, the milk protein which is where most of the lactose resides. . So if butter bothers you, try clarified butter called ghee, or a vegetarian butter alternative. For the mildly lactose intolerant, goat cheese and goat milk are often tolerated.3*

While food allergies and intolerances can be a nuisance to work around, people and food manufacturers have come up with some wonderful alternatives as you see here with milk substitutes. These are better for your heart and your gut and plant-based products are better for the environment than animal products. Experiment with these healthy alternatives and find the one you like best. Keep in mind that you will want to supplement with other sources of calcium and Vitamin D as milk substitutes don’t have the same nutritional panel as cow’s milk. Supplementing with Body Biotics™ Bio-Identical SBO Probiotics Consortia™ will also help your gut to be fortified against the pesky digestive issues that arise from food intolerance. Next time we will explore growing methods and the sustainability of the various milk substitutes to make educated choices going forward.*

Until then, healthiest wishes!





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