What are the alternatives to dairy? (saying bye bye to Bessie)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

According to our friends over at Wikipedia and many other sources, as many as 75% of adults worldwide show a decrease in their ability to break down cow's milk. This process typically begins around age four and corresponds with weaning. Weaning is the point where for all mammals -except humans- milk is no longer consumed. For those of you affected by dairy intolerance, allergy, or the simple desire to remove dairy from your diet (and there are endless compelling reasons for making that choice), there are a lot of non-dairy options available to you. Here are some that you may have heard of and are commercially available:
  • Soy milk
  • rice milk
  • almond milk
  • hemp milk
Those four are more commonly available, and can be found in tetra packs on the shelves of your grocery or health food store (though sometimes in the fridge near the cow's milk, eggs, etc).  Now for a little info on each (there is sooo much more I can say, but here's a bit of an overview on how I see each one):
  • Soy milk is a definite no as a regular choice (though it IS the only one that froths well for an occasional latte). Soy is one of the most allergenic substances out there, and has slowly crept into our diets as a "meat and dairy" alternative, but anything in mass quantities quickly becomes a very unhealthy choice. Have you looked at your average packaged food lately? Startling numbers contain "soy lecithin" or other soy derivatives. Soy, in its fermented state (in miso paste) is actually a great choice to add to soups, etc. as long as you don't "cook it"- then it's live and full of probiotic qualities. However, the proliferation of tofu, soy milk, soy burgers, textured vegetable protein (TVP), etc. mean the average person- typically someone trying to get away from too much animal protein- is getting WAY too much. Soy has natural plant estrogen and other "not-good-in-large-quantities" components that I highly suggest staying away from. There are so many great choices for non-animal proteins (nuts, seeds, legumes, lentils) that relying on soy is not only dangerous, but leaves you missing out on the good stuff!
  • Rice milk is really high in carbohydrates (starches) and even if we're talking about unsweetened brown rice milk, it's really not what I choose when I have options, though I'd gladly have some on my cereal if that's what's handy. Rice milk, incidentally, is the one my daughter is currently okay with, and it's "school safe" whereas nut milks are not. Though it's not my first choice, I am thrilled to have her off of soy. 
  • Hemp milk is not widely available, and the brands that I've tried have either tasted...well...horrible, or been heavily sweetened. I always opt for the "unsweetened" version of any milk I'm buying. However, that mighty hemp seed is incredibly powerful and loaded with goodness, so I'm very much open to finding another brand or making my own (see below).
  • Almond milk is my first choice out of what's above. I usually choose organic, unsweetened, fortified, vanilla almond milk when I have the option.
There are other milks entering the marketplace now. Coconut milk made an appearance at my local health food store. Haven't had a chance to try it yet, but coconut is absolutely bursting with incredible nutrition. It's definitely something I will try (considering that I cook with coconut oil, use coconut sap as a low-glycemic sweetener and bake with coconut flour, you've gotta figure I'd be game). I HAVE had the chance to try coconut ice cream (as in, made using coconut milk, sweetened with brown rice syrup) and it is so ridiculously creamy and DREAMY that I have to cut myself off or I'd eat it by the gallon.

The alternate to running around trying to find commercially prepared milks, is simply to make them yourself. Kelly from The Spunky Coconut has made a video on how to prepare your own cashew milk, another on almond milk, and a post on how to make hemp milk. I highly recommend checking these out. As long as you have a relatively good blender, you can make this work. Mine is kind of sucky (one day I hope to get myself a Vita-Mix or Blend-Tech but they're about $500 smackers) so if I really cared, I'd strain the milk through a coffee filter or something to get the last of the grit out. But I'm not that worried about it, to be honest. I will occasionally have a glass of it, but it's mostly just for those odd times when I have some cereal or want to have a "milky" blender drink (i.e. NOT a green smoothie).

If you're a proponent of dairy, you're not here to be convinced. There are so many reason so say sionara to dairy, but frankly I'm not here to fight that fight. I'm here to talk to those of you who are leaning that way already and are looking for options. Speaking of options, if you're hoping to jump right in and have a big glass of some milk alternative with a piece of chocolate cake, I'm afraid you'll be very disappointed when you run out and buy one hoping for a clear equivalent. You won't find it. It's a very different kind of flavour and consistency. But if you're dedicated to making a healthy change for the better, surf around until you find an alternative you can live with, and reap the health benefits. The best recommendation I can make when you're going dairy free is to see a naturopathic doctor or holistic nutritionist to work out the best dietary balance for you and your family (as a matter of fact, I'd make that same recommendation to just about anyone). I'm here to share my experiences and my preferences, but they can't take the place of professional advice. All I can tell you is that I am absolutely NIGHT AND DAY different with and without cow's milk in my diet, and that as you reMOOve dairy from your diet (sorry, I couldn't help myself!!) you will experience the wonderful benefits that follow.

Wishing you all health and wellness.


Shan said...

LOVE this post! Your explanation of Soy was so bang on. Very allergenic and over used (even without intending to!) Soy is really a last resort, especially when you consider that Soy is heavily genetically modified and practically owned by Monsanto (let's not give them any MORE power shall we!?!)

Also wanted to add that i LOVE hemp milk and have found an unsweetened brand that i love (goes in as a base for ALL my smoothies that need a 'milky substance' to start :)

Last I totally get your not wanting to 'fight the fight' with all those 'dairy lovers' out there... so I will just take a quick jab at it for you:

1- Dairy is the MOST acid forming substance you can put in your body... why should you care about acid formation? Well because acidic blood LEACHES calcium OUT of your bones to achieve balanced pH! So the 'but i need my calcium' excuse doesn't really ring true! (proven by the fact that the highest Osteoporosis rates are in the countries with the highest dairy consumption!)

2- The other reason you should care about acidic blood: Acid needs to be stored away from vital organs so that it doesn't harm you... how does your body do that? it uses your FAT STORES to do this. And if you continue to drink dairy, your body will HANG ON to ANY FAT you have just to have a place to keep it out of harm's way! You can try whatever eating plan you want... if you continue to pollute yourself with dairy, your fat ain't goin anywhere!

3- Dairy consumption results in your body forming mucous to protect the lining of your intestines from its harmful effects. Again, why should you care? Well this mucous is why many dairy eaters end up with poor digestion, poor absorption of the nutrients from their foods, which leads to gas, bloating, constipation, and over eating because if your body is 'nutrient deficient' then no matter how MUCH you put in your stomach, your body still says "FEED ME" because it is not properly absorbing what it NEEDS to function properly!

So i could go on and on and on. But again... maybe it is pointless. Because if you are a milk lover, then your argument is an emotional one, not a logical one. It is a comfort food, a pallet teaser, and you are CHOOSING to ignore the science pointing a flashing neon message right between your eyes.

And from someone who HAS made strictly emotional decisions in the past... and lived in that space of "don't rock my boat, i like it here, even though i am killing myself" i know personally that none of this will make it past your "comfort zone gatekeeper".

So Like you said Kirst... reMOOve it and see for yourself. Or don't. Either way, thanks for reading this far down... that says at least you are open to listening :) Shan xo

Alicia said...

First time checking out your blog and seems as though we have similar topics this week. I grew up on a dairy farm - so it has been hard for me to give it up. But I had to because my nursing son has a milk intolerance or allergy (that he will hopefully grow out of). We have more recently discovered reactions to soy as well. I give him organic rice dream vanilla rice milk....but would much rather give him almond milk. However, I can't find an almond milk that doesn't contain soy lecithin. Any ideas?

Kirsten said...

Hello Alicia!
Yes, I do have a recommendation for you. Pacific foods organic almond milk does not have soy in it. Hope that helps!

Alicia said...

Thanks Kirsten...I'll check out the local health food stores for this brand!

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