We live now in a very ‘strange’ world. We try to be healthy! But it is not so easy. You read the information about milk and dairy products, and you decide to stop consuming dairy. You go to a health-food store and purchase grain milk. Unfortunately, there are the other problems.
Almond milk, soymilk, coconut milk, hazelnut milk, oat milk, hemp milk… new varieties of non-dairy milks have been popping up all over the grocery store shelves; but are these milk substitutes healthy? Well, not really. While these milk substitutes sound good according to the claims on the packages (things like as much calcium as milk and heart healthy), the ingredients in these processed products tell a different story. Here are seven reasons to think twice before buying non-dairy milks.
- Natural flavors,
- Vegetable oils,
- Vitamin D2,
- Other isolated vitamins,
- Phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors.
This seaweed-based additive is extremely inflammatory and should be fastidiously avoided. As a matter of fact, carrageenan is so caustic to the digestive tract that researchers use it to induce colitis in lab animals! The World Health Organization classifies one type of carrageenan as a ‘possible human carcinogen’. Lesson? Just because a carton of almond milk claims the titles ‘organic’ and ‘heart healthy’ does not mean it should be a part of your diet.
- “Natural flavors”
This term conveniently eliminates the need to list unsavory additives on the ingredient list. “Natural flavors” can even mean forms of MSG and artificial sweeteners. I want to know EXACTLY what is in the food that I eat. That is why I prepare most of my food from scratch and only purchase ingredients from companies who have the rare integrity to list every single ingredient on their product. I feel a visceral distrust of a company that puts ‘natural flavors’ on their ingredient list.
- Vegetable oils
Most nut or seed milks contain canola oil, corn oil, and/or soybean oil which are all bad news. Vegetable oils are a freak of nature… after all; it takes a lot of effort to get a gallon of oil from corn! Vegetable oils are extracted with toxic solvents as well as high heat and pressure, agents that take the delicate chemical structure of the fatty acids and make them rancid. Furthermore, corn and soy oils are most likely from heavily sprayed and GMO crops. You will find more information about oils in the section ‘Fats and oils’.
When it comes to non-dairy milk options, soymilk is by far the worst choice. For the sake of keeping this post a reasonable length, I am just going to give you some of the detrimental health consequences of soy in a nutshell:
- Soy contains high amounts of phytoestrogens which may cause estrogen dominance
- Soy impairs thyroid function which lowers metabolism,
- Soy contains substances that interfere with protein digestion
- Soy is super high in mineral-blocking phytic acid
- Vitamin D2
The natural vitamin D in real milk, as well as the D the human body produces from sun exposure is D3. Vitamins in a whole-food form, such as in raw milk, provide an easily assimilated form of the nutrients along with important cofactors for absorption. Vitamin D2 is a synthetic and isolated form of the vitamin and, as a result, is extremely poorly absorbed. It offers no viable benefit to the body.
- Other isolated vitamins:
When it comes to processed foods, the sum of the parts does not equal the whole. Here’s what I mean in the case of milk substitutes: companies isolate forms of vitamins and minerals and add it into the milk substitute base. But just because a rice-milk claims to have as much calcium as regular milk, does not mean the body absorbs and utilizes the calcium from both items the same way. I believe nutrients are always better absorbed in the whole-food form.For example, real, whole milk provides adequate saturated fats to help the body utilize the calcium and fat-soluble vitamins in the milk. As another example, naturally occurring (non-isolated) vitamin A only creates vitamin A toxicity in uber-extreme doses while moderate overdoses of synthetic vitamin A can cause toxicity.
- Phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors
Traditional cultures soaked their nuts and seeds in a salty brine and then dried them in the sun. This reduced the phytic acid content (a substance which impairs mineral absorption) and the naturally occurring enzyme inhibitors (which cause digestive distress and impair protein digestion). I know that many of you are already fans of soaking and dehydrating your nuts/seeds to make the nutrients more bio available. Unfortunately, commercially prepared non-dairy milks are not made from properly prepared nuts/seeds.
What about coconut milk?
I frequently use coconut milk in my recipes. Although it is a seed, coconut has an excellent fatty acid profile with lots of metabolism-boosting medium chain fatty acids and very little PUFA (Polyunsaturated fatty acid). However, we have to be careful when buying coconut milks because they can have the same problems of other milk substitutes. I don’t recommend buying cartons of coconut milk, because these often contain carrageenan.
The best option is additive-free coconut milk in BPA-free cans. You can also make coconut milk at home from unsweetened coconut flakes.
This chart gives you all the recipes for major nuts. Nut milks and butters are great as dairy alternatives, but are expensive in the stores. Making these foods at home is easy. This chart gives you all the recipes for major nuts. The process for milk is simple: soak some nuts, wait, blend, and strain. It’s easy and cheaper than store-bought—I tried it recently and emerged a changed man. To make nut butters, all you do is measure and blend. The chart lists some other ingredients to add some flavor, but plain nut milk is tasty on it’s own.