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Milk vs Mylk: What to Drink & Why

The Guardian recently released an article that really got me thinking: ‘Almonds are out. Dairy is a disaster. So what milk should we drink?’

In North America and around much of the globe, we are blessed with many dairy milk and milk alternative options. And yet, which is the healthiest and most environmentally sustainable? Here are some of my thoughts.

COW'S MILK: Dairy has faced it’s fair share of criticism over the years. Among the most prominent arguments for not consuming cow’s milk are the prevalence of whey and/or casein allergies, lactose intolerance, the over milking of cows (which can lead to gross things like blood and pus being present in the resultant milk 🤢), and increased greenhouse emissions. Some people seem to do well with cow's milk, but there are good reasons to question whether we really want to include mass produced, commercial varieties in our daily diet.

Commercial Recommendation: Eby Manor. Milk from Guernsey cows is naturally higher in beta-carotene, omega-3, and calcium. It also contains A2 protein, which many individuals seem to be less reactive to. When the right cows are raised the right way, cow's milk has the potential to be a healthy addition to a balanced diet.

ALMOND: Almond milk has been a very popular dairy milk alternative for over a decade. While fantastic for those with dairy sensitivities, new data suggests that it might not be healthy for the bee population. Given the vital role bees play regarding sustaining life on the planet, this is a very big deal. What’s more, commercial almond milks often contain added sugars and additives likes carrageenan that aren’t the most health promoting.

Commercial Recommendation: Elmhurst Unsweetened Milked Almonds. I can’t promise that bees aren’t being impacted by its production, but it’s a clean, healthy product made up of only two ingredients: filtered water and almonds. That’s about as good as it’s going to get.

COCONUT: From a health perspective, I am a huge advocate of pure, organic, and additive-free coconut milks that only contain organic coconut and water. Seek out a company that pays their labourers a fair wage and this could be a great option that ticks all the health and ethics boxes.

Commercial Recommendation: Cha’s Organics. Packaged in BPA free easy-open cans, Cha’s is fair trade certified (which means workers are earning a fair living wage), certified organic, unsweetened, preservative and sulphite free, and non-irradiated.

HAZELNUT: From an environmental perspective, hazelnuts seem to be a far better choice than almonds. The main reason for this is that hazelnuts are pollinated by wind rather than commercial honeybees. They also tend to grow in moist climates, which reduces the amount of water needed to grow them. Try making your own or look for an unsweetened version containing filtered water and hazelnuts. Be on the lookout for products containing refined sugars, added gums and/or emulsifiers, and artificial flavours.

Commercial Recommendation: Elmhurst Unsweetened Milked Hazelnuts. Much like Elmhurst's Unsweetened Milked Almonds, this is a clean, healthy product made up of only two ingredients: filtered water and hazelnuts. Non-GMO, no added gums or emulsifiers, no carrageenan, and no artificial flavours.

SOY: Depending on who you ask, soy is super healthy or horrendously poor for human health. Part of the reason for this is that soy contains a large number of phytoestrogens (i.e. plant estrogens). This can be great for individuals low in estrogen (e.g. menopausal ladies), but not so great for individuals who don’t need more estrogen (e.g. teenage boys). Should you choose to consume soy in any form, please choose organic, as non-organic soy habitually contains high pesticide residues that can further disrupt hormone health.

Commercial Recommendation: Eden Foods Unsweetened Soy Milk. Made exclusively from reverse osmosis purified water and organic soybeans.

OAT: One of the newbies on the market, oat milk has taken the dairy milk alternative market by storm. These days, oat milk seems to be available everywhere from health food stores to large, international coffee houses like Starbucks. So far, oat milk seems to be a reasonably healthy, sustainable option. Just know that it is likely to be higher in carbohydrates than many other milk/mylk options. It might also not be gluten free unless it specifically indicates that it is.

Commercial Recommendation: Oatly! They make a pure product containing water, organic oats, and sea salt. Products made in the US are made from certified gluten-free oats and are therefore able to be labeled as gluten free. All others are low gluten (around 100 ppm), but likely not appropriate for those with Celiac and/or severe gluten intolerance.

RICE MILK: Rice milk was one of the first dairy milk alternatives to hit the market. It became a popular option for those seeking an econominal, nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free beverage. While I think it has its place, many leave a lot to be desired nutritionally. They simply don't offer a lot of nutrients for the calories. From an environmental perspective, rice appears to produce more greenhouse gas emissions than any other plant milk studied thus far. Bacteria seems to breed in rice paddies, which pumps methane into the atmosphere. Like most grain based milk alternatives, rice milk tends to be quite high in carbohydrates relative to others milk/mylk options. This isn't great for anyone with blood sugar sensitivities.

Commercial Recommendation: Isola Bio Organic Just Brown Rice Milk. Composed of water, brown rice, cold pressed organic sunflower oil, and sea salt, this is as close to a high quality homemade product as I have ever found. I appreciate how Isola uses unrefined rice, is additive free, and doesn’t add supplemental vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals are vital to human health, but cheap, synthetic version have the potential to do more harm than good. Quality counts!

HEMP: Flavour wise, I think this option can leave something to be desired. I can’t even fathom the idea of trying to make a hemp mylk latte. I'll be honest. I suspect taste buds would rebel. And yet, find a hemp milk made exclusively from filtered water and hemp hearts and this option is about as healthy as it gets. These tiny little seeds are a phenomenal source of complete vegan protein. They are also rich in omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, as well as a number of other key nutrients.

Commercial Recommendation: Honestly, I have yet to find a commercially made hemp milk that I would recommend above and beyond others. So far, every single one I have seen contains refined sugar, additives, and/or supplemental vitamins I would rather avoid. Personally, I would choose to make my own by blending filtered water, hemp hearts, and maybe a tiny bit of sea salt. Were I feeling indulgent, I might also add a little pure maple syrup.

As you can likely see, there are myriad pros and cons to our various dairy milk and alternative options. In the end, it really just depends what we choose to prioritize.

Bon appetit!

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