Milk 101: The Naturopathic Kitchen

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You are probably familiar with famous tagline, “Got Milk?” along with images of celebrities sporting milk mustaches and espousing the health benefits of cow’s milk. Today, however, milk alternatives are increasing in popularity as cow’s milk has been linked to negative health effects in portions of the population.1 Many people develop a deficiency of the enzyme lactase that is needed to digest sugars found in cow’s dairy. Without the ability to properly digest cow dairy, they may experience uncomfortable digestive symptoms such as bloating, cramping, diarrhea and persistent abdominal pain. The pasteurization process further destroys important digestive enzymes needed to properly digest milk. For these reasons, cow dairy is a prominent food sensitivity for many people, even if they do not experience a true allergenic response.

As a result, a considerable number of non-dairy milk alternatives have emerged on the market. Milk alternatives are made from a variety of plant sources such as nuts, seeds and grains, and each variety has a unique nutritional profile, flavor, color, and texture as well as other properties such as its ability to combine with other liquids or be used in baking. People who wish to stop using dairy milk may substitute from a range of plant-based options as well as milk from other animals such as goats.

How is it Made?ProsCons
SoyProduced from soaking and grinding soybeans, boiling the mixture and filtering the remaining particlesBecoming widely available, thickest of the alternative milks, longer shelf-life than dairy milk, can be stored at room temperature for monthsCommon food allergen and can be difficult to digest; often contains gums, fillers, and added sugar. If not organic, it is likely a GMO and contains pesticides
AlmondProduced from blending almonds in water and passing through a filterGood alternative to dairy and soy milks, lower calorie (unless sweetened), high in vitamin EOften contains gums, fillers, and added sugars. Typically contains the non-active form of vitamin D (D2). Made from skinless almonds with most fiber and antioxidants removed
CowMilked and bottled directly from cowsMost versatile, can be processed into many different types of dairy products that have a long track record of use. Highest in natural micronutrient and good quality fats (when grass-fed)High incidence of allergy or lactose intolerance. May contain added hormones and other xenobiotics that the cow ingested
GoatMilked and bottled directly from goatsEasier to digest and less allergenic than cow dairy. Nutrients and minerals are more bioavailable than cow dairyHas a strong flavor and smell that may be unpleasant to some
CashewRaw cashews are soaked in water, blended, and filteredGood flavor and often thicker than other alternative milks. Contains significant amounts of tryptophan which may increase serotonin.Often contains gums, fillers, and often added sugars. Typically contains the non-active form of vitamin D (D2). Has a higher rate of intolerance or allergy than other alternative milks
CoconutGrated pulp is soaked in hot water, squeezed, and filteredHigh in healthy fats and medium chain triglycerides. Higher in vitamins and minerals than other alternative milks. Can improve digestion and aid in constipationOften contains gums, fillers, and often added sugars. Typically contains the non-active form of vitamin D (D2). Canned varieties may contain BPA (an industrial chemical used to make plastic)
RiceBlend cooked rice with water and strainedLess allergenic than cow dairy, easy and inexpensive to make at home, low in fat and cholesterol free, good source of B vitamins, manganese, and seleniumHigher in sugar and carbohydrates than other milk alternatives, may contain high levels of arsenic, may contain additives like gums, thickeners, as well as added sugar
HempHemp seeds are blended with water, salt, and sweetener, then strainedIs a complete protein and contains healthy fats including omega 3. It is also a good source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, Vitamin D, and B vitamins among others. Will not cause the “high” associated with marijuana (THC)Does not mix well and can separate in drinks like coffee; can be challenging to find
OatOats are soaked, drained, blended with water and salt, then strainedCreamy flavor, rich consistency, blends well with other beverages (i.e. coffee), Good source of iron, heart-healthy, may lower cholesterolCommercial varieties may be full of additives, preservatives, and sugar. Often cross-contaminated with gluten via processing facilities. Not as nutrient-dense as other milk alternatives

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