Milk isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. For vegans and people who suffer from lactose intolerance or a milk allergy, cow’s milk is off limits. Some people just don’t like the taste. For billions of others across the world, milk is an important foodstuff and source of nutrients. As a dietary and culinary staple, milk is an ingredient of many pre-prepared and processed fo ods. The good news is that for people who literally can’t stomach it, or for those cutting out milk in the interests of eating healthy food, there are lots of alternatives on the market today.
Lactose intolerance is thought to affect up to 75% of the US population, and up to 90% of those of Asian, African and Native American descent. Those afflicted produce insufficient lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose in milk. The consequences include bloating, stomach upsets, diarrhea, and even asthma and skin rashes. Allergic persons react instead to the proteins in conventional milk. Rather than simply cutting out all milk, milk substitutes from non-animal sources are a solution.
There have also been studies showing that the calcium in milk may not protect us against osteoporosis after all, but actually help cause it. Milk might help make bones stronger in the short term, but it seems that it actually weakens them in the long term thus increasing the risk of developing osteoporosis.
A variety of nut, seed and grain milks have been developed to meet the needs of consumers who can’t or won’t have cow’s milk. Technically they are not milk, but some come pretty close and can help bring back a whole suite of foods into the diet, from café latte to cornflakes.
Soy milk was the top milk alternative for many years. As a low fat food, soy has certain health benefits, but some concerns have been raised about the prevalence of GM soy beans in soy products generally, and the impact of the plant estrogens that it contains. Soy milk nevertheless has a long pedigree in eastern cuisine and remains a popular choice as an alternative to cow’s milk. Another popular substitute that is easy to tolerate is rice milk, though it may be a bit too sweet and watery for some people’s taste.
Less well known milk substitutes are made from almonds, oats and hemp. Almond milk has a good consistency for drinking and cooking. Oat milk is high in fiber and said to be tolerated well by people with food sensitivities – but it may not be good for celiac disease and gluten allergy sufferers. As a healthy food, hemp milk scores high in the nutrition stakes.
The nutrient values of milk substitutes are different from cow’s milk so make sure to check out the labels when choosing a product. Some are also shockingly high in sugars, and not quite the healthy food you may be expecting but can still be healthier alternatives to milk.
People giving up cow’s milk need to make sure that they are obtaining the equivalent nutrition in the rest of their diet. With smart eating, milk substitutes can play an important role in a healthy, lactose-free diet.