There’s no doubt at all that the dairy versus non-dairy debate becomes increasingly more difficult to escape. It seems readily accepted fact that soy milk and other non-dairy milks are better (and greener) than their dairy alternatives. Many people prefer a dairy-free lifestyle. But how true is this?
Vast amounts of Amazonian rain forest are being destroyed in order to keep up with the world’s soybean demand. As pointed out on Grist, all plant-milks are processed foods, not whole foods. The fact is, the consumer can choose local, organic dairy products and avoid all of the questions of animal cruelty, hormones, and other undesirable chemicals like toxins.
It’s important to address all allergies and intolerance. If you or your family is allergic to dairy, avoid all dairy products, even the organic, local sorts. The same hold for almond or nut milks if your family is allergic to them.
I’d like to address the dairy side of things first. It is true that milk, cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products can contain great deal of unhealthy chemicals. Often these foods are highly processed and made of milk from cows kept in unhealthy conditions. A great deal of the ire against dairy and a great deal of the intolerance of dairy products has to do with this. But of course, these products fall prey to the same issues as any other highly processed, mass produced American food. They can be terribly unhealthy simply because of the ways that the animals involved are raised, and because of the chemicals added to ensure desired “freshness,” color, shape, etc.
However, what if you could see the cows that provided your milk? What if you could walk up to the farm, knock on the door, and speak directly to your farmer? What if you knew that the cows were fed natural, grain-free diets and that they were given plenty of pasture to roam around? If you want to eat dairy and dairy products, local is the way to go. You can purchase local cheese and dairy products, or you can buy all natural products at the whole foods market or health store in your area. If you don’t know where to look for a farmer, this website will direct you to your local dairy producers. As far as ice cream. Have you ever tasted home-made ice cream? The carton will never seem appetizing again! Local, real dairy can have many health benefits, and as always, shopping local will boost your economy. For more information about buying real milk, and the benefits of drinking real milk, check out the Campaign For Real Milk website!
With that being said, there are many who choose not to eat dairy. This can be due to a variety of factors, prompted by anything from food allergies to veganism to a general distaste for dairy products. Luckily in today’s market there are great varietys of products that are made to replace dairy-based foods, and many of them are absolutely delicious in their own right. But the glut of choices can make quick-supermarket decisions almost impossible. So what do you choose, and why? And is it any good?
Soy Milk: There’s been quite a bit of controversy surrounding soy, with some claiming that it causes late sexual maturation in boys and early sexual maturation in girls, as well as many other health issues including problems with the thyroid and hormonal levels. But the science behind these claims seems to be dodgy at best, and there’s no doubt that additional studies need to be done before any concrete claims can be made. One thing that can generally be agreed on, however, is that soy is healthiest in it’s natural form. Shocked? Surprised? Probably not. I wasn’t either, to be honest.
Consuming soy in enormous amounts isn’t healthy either, but this is old-hat as well. One of the basic tenants of good nutrition is that our bodies require a variety of nutrients found in a variety of foods. Too much of anything, no matter how healthy, can be poison. So exercise common sense and keep a good variety of foods in your diet. A balanced perspective on the soy controversy can be found on WomenToWomen.
As for soy milk as an option in the ever-burgeoning dairy-free market, it can be a wonderful choice. No, it doesn’t taste like milk (none of them do!) but it does have a nice flavor. For drinking, I prefer chocolate soy milk and for cereal, vanilla. Unflavored can be used in baking. Soy creamer products are made for coffee (and are quite tasty) and soy is often used for other non- dairy substitutes like cheese and ice cream. If you consume a lot of soy in vegan cheeses, veggie burgers, or other vegan products, I would steer clear of soy milk. Also, please be conscious of where your soybeans come from. If you’d like to find information on the origins of soybeans in your favorite brand, look up the brand website on Google.
Almond Milk: My personal favorite, almond milk is a rich, creamy nut-based milk with a great flavor and consistency. The sweetness can be a little much even in the unflavored variety, so keep that in mind when eating it with cereal. I personally prefer chocolate soy milk to chocolate almond milk, but I like the consistency and flavor of the vanilla and unflavored varieties of almond milk over soy. In the end, it’s a matter of personal preference, but this makes a great alternative for those with no nut-based allergies.
Coconut Milk: The jury seems to be out on coconut milk. But one thing to remember is that “coconut milk” is one term that can easily be applied to two (or more) products. What we are referring to is products like So Delicious Coconut Milk, as opposed to the canned sort of coconut milk that makes delicious curries. This is a very new product, but one that can be found in most health and whole foods markets. It lacks many of the usual allergen culprits, and So Delicious takes their allergen-sensitive consumers very seriously, which I appreciate. It’s low in calorie and rich in the good sorts of fatty acids, and according to many reviewers, quite delicious. I would say this coconut milk is one of the best choices on the market today, and kudos to So Delicious for making this milk and all of their other coconut products!
Rice Milk: There are many benefits to rice milk. Those with allergies don’t have to worry about nuts or dairy, those on low-protein diets can use it as a low-protein substitute for other milks, it has a good taste and is naturally sweet, thereby avoiding artificial sweeteners or sugar. It is thinner than other milks and is somewhat translucent, and if used in cooking, it will provide a sweeter flavor. However, this can be a very good alternative to cut back soy, avoid nuts, or to lower protein intake.
There are other varieties, and the non-dairy milk market is growing and developing all the time. It is important to remember that if you do desire dairy, keep it local and organic. Avoid dairy from questionable sources, or that which contains chemicals and hormones. If you choose to cut back on or eliminate dairy altogether, be careful not to overdo the soy, and remember that coconut milk can make a delicious, healthful alternative with little allergens. And as always, remember that all milk substitutes are processed foods and should be limited in your diet.
For more helpful hints, tips, and recipes, visit thetranquilkitchen.blogspot.com!