May 16 2021

Plant Based Milks are better for the Planet than Dairy

Published by at 12:29 pm under Dietary Guidelines,probiotic supplements

Plant-based milk is better for the planet than dairy, some more than others.

You’ve chosen plant-based milk…that’s great! Now know what it takes to make them and choose accordingly.

If you are among the 68% of people worldwide who have trouble digesting lactose, you have most likely discovered the many dairy alternatives available on the market. In fact, there are so many great dairy-free options out there that people are able to skip lactose without really skipping a beat. They vary in ingredients, brands, and taste. They also are different in how they are produced, with varying degrees of sustainability and their impact on the environment. (1,2)*

While plant-based milk options differ in their sustainability, they are all better than cow’s milk in terms of their environmental footprint. “…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)

Other things to consider are whether ingredients are grown organically, labor practices required to produce the product, deforestation, and water usage. So how do these various different kinds of milk measure up? *

Coconut milk

Coconut milk is found in cans and used in cooking and also in cartons for drinking. Sadly, coconut trees only grow in tropical climates where the demand to meet global consumption is resulting in the destruction of rain forests and the exploitation of workers.  According to an investigation by The New York Times, “…between 2007 to 2014 rainforests in Indonesia were clear cut at the rate of three acres per minute to make way for coconut palm trees..”4*

According to Isaac Emery, a food sustainability consultant, coconut consumption is an “absolute tragedy” for these reasons.  To avoid supporting unsustainable practices, choose coconut products certified to be Fair Trade, which ensures workers get a fair wage and are not exploited for their work. 4*

Almond milk

Almond milk has gained popularity in the past decade as a healthy and tasty milk alternative, but unfortunately meeting the demands of this burgeoning industry is having severe consequences on both the environment and the honey bees.  The largest specialty crop in the United States with orchards spanning a region the size of Delaware primarily in the arid Central Valley of California, almonds require more water than any other dairy alternative “…consuming 130 pints of water to produce a single glass of almond milk…” according to the Oxford study,3*

It is also putting an unsustainable demand on commercial beekeepers, with approximately 70% of commercial bees in the US-drafted each spring to pollinate almonds. Last year, over one-third of them died by the end of the season as a result of the pressures of keeping up. So while we all love almonds and almond milk, it may be time to look at other alternatives.4*

If you like the flavor and nutritional composition of nut milk, there are other choices.

Hazelnut milk

Hazelnuts grow on trees like all nuts, but the hazelnut tree pulls carbon from the atmosphere, which reduced greenhouse emissions instead of increasing them. Pollinated by the wind rather than bees, they grow in damp climates such as the Pacific Northwest where water is less of an issue. 5*

Macadamia milk

Macadamia nuts are considered moderately sustainable due to having lower environmental damage as long as pesticides have not been used. Macadamia milk requires significantly less water to grow the nuts and produce the milk than that of almond milk and certainly dairy milk. However, the regions in which macadamia nuts are mainly grown such as Hawaii and Australia, have been dealing with water shortages and climate-related crises. Once again, try to buy organic and non-GMO Macadamia Milk if possible. 5*

Cashew milk

Cashew Milk is a lot like almond milk when it comes to its consistency and flavor but differs in that it uses less water to produce, but does still use quite a bit, more than needed for producing seeds and legumes. It uses less land to grow the plants compared to other plant-based milk. The downside is that 60% of cashews are grown in India and Vietnam where there have been known human rights abuses. See resource 6 for more information on how cashews are harvested and decide for yourself. 5*

Rice milk

This is another milk alternative that grades low when it comes to the environment. It has little nutritional value and uses a great deal of water and produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other plant milk, according to the Oxford study.  The bacteria that breed in rice paddies pumps methane into the atmosphere and “…large amounts of fertilizer pollute waterways…” Rice is one of the worst polluters when it comes to water.4*

Hemp Milk

Hemp milk is a highly sustainable plant that needs little water and offers a protein-packed option, also high in fiber. It grows quickly and can therefore be harvested and replanted. Hemp is an absorbent plant that pulls toxins out of the air and the soil, so it is important to find organic options. 5*

Soy milk

The milk alternative of choice long before almond milk came on the scene, soy milk is the best choice when it comes to both sustainability and nutritional content, according to the Oxford study. It is the only plant-based milk that comes close to offering the same protein content as dairy. 4*

Soy lost favor with many because “…it has a relatively high concentration of certain hormones that are similar to human hormones and people got freaked out about that,” but you would have to consume “…an impossibly large amount of soy milk and tofu for that to ever be a problem…”  According to recent studies, moderate amounts of soy are healthy. 4*

There is an environmental impact of mass soybean production around the world used to feed livestock for meat and dairy production. Large areas of the Amazon rainforest have been burned to create soy farms. For this reason, read labels and only choose soy products that are made from organic soybeans grown in the United States or Canada, where crops are rotated.5*

Oat milk

Retail sales of oat milk have skyrocketed in recent years and it has surpassed almond milk as the fastest growing alternative to dairy. When it comes to sustainability, oat milk scores very high and there are not really any negative consequences for the environment as oats are grown in the cooler climates of the US and Canada where there is no deforestation associated with growing this crop. But there is a negative. “…Most oats come from mass-produced, monoculture operations where they are sprayed with the Roundup pesticide right before harvest. A study by the Environmental Working Group found glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and a possible carcinogen, in all the foods it tested containing conventionally grown oats and even in one-third of products made with organic oats. However, the popular Oatly brand oat milk company maintains its oats are certified glyphosate free…”4*

 Pea Milk

Pea protein, while less familiar than other dairy-free options, requires 85% less water to grow than almonds and they can utilize nitrogen in the air to produce plant cells, meaning they require less fertilizer than other types of plants. This results in lower greenhouse gas emissions since fertilizer has a large carbon footprint. “…Pea milk may be one of the most sustainable options for your non-dairy milk choices, due to its low water requirements and the fact that it needs less fertilizer than any other option….”5*

 As we all do our best to make choices we believe to be healthiest for our bodies, it can be difficult to stay apprised of all the ins and outs of production, growing methods, etc. If you are choosing plant-based products to replace meat in your diet, you are doing your part to not only improve your health but also the health of our planet. Plant-based products also support the gut by acting as a prebiotic to the healthy bacteria residing there. Maintain good gut health with Body Biotics™ Bio-identical SBO Probiotics Consortia™ as well.

Healthiest wishes,

Kelli

www.bodybiotics.com

Resources:

  1. https://fullscript.com/blog/dairy-free-milk-alternatives
  2. https://intermountainhealthcare.org/blogs/topics/live-well/2017/07/lactose-intolerance/
  3. https://www.prevention.com/food-nutrition/g20511127/dairy-for-lactose-intolerant-people/
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/28/what-plant-milk-should-i-drink-almond-killing-bees-aoe
  5. https://thebeet.com/youve-ditched-dairy-but-which-plant-based-milk-is-best-for-the-environment/
  6. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/cashew-milk-saving-animals-hurting

 

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