dairy-free versus DAIRY MILK

pros of Plant-based milks

  • Cholesterol- and hormone-free, plus lower in sugar than dairy milk.
  • Ideal for anyone with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance.
  • Creamy, delicious, and varied.
  • Customizable: If you DIY, you can decide on the ingredients, consistency, flavoring and fortification.
  • High in fiber, if left unstrained.
  • Arguably more sustainable or eco-friendly.
  • Perfect for vegan, kosher, and paleo diets.

plant-based milk faq

1.     Are plant-based milks as nutritious as dairy milk?

On the pro side, unfortified dairy milk is rich in calcium, potassium, and protein. On the con side, it also contains cholesterol, hormones (if not organic), and a lot of natural sugar (lactose). That's why some health experts recommend keeping milk consumption to a minimum.

In contrast, on the pro side, unsweetened dairy-free milks are free of cholesterol and hormones, and are very low in sugar. Although most types are naturally lower in nutrients than dairy milk, packaged versions are fortified with calcium and protein. And, unfortified soy, peanut, pea, and other legume milks naturally contain as much protein and almost as much calcium as dairy milk.

It's a draw when it comes to water content and Vitamin-D: both dairy-free milk and dairy milk consist of mostly water (87% in the case of the latter), and both (packaged) versions are fortified with Vitamin-D.

For the most nutrient-dense, healthful dairy-free milk, make it yourself with a high ratio of solid ingredients to water, and do not strain. Try fortifying with calcium tablets or vitamins. If you purchase dairy-free milks, go for unsweetened versions.

2.     Is dairy milk essential to the human diet?

Dairy is not essential to the adult human diet. (Caveat: infants and very young children need dairy milk. Ask your doctor before switching your children to dairy-free milk.) Calcium can be gleaned from other sources, such as walnuts, dark leafy greens, legumes, and seafood; potassium from beans, dark leafy greens, potatoes, squash, yogurt, fish, avocados, mushrooms, and bananas; and protein from legumes, nuts, meat, and seafood. Plus, most packaged dairy-free milks are fortified with calcium and potassium anyway. Several studies have shown that milk consumption does not prevent bone fractures, while others have shown links between dairy milk consumption and prostate and ovarian cancer and bone fractures.

3.     Is plant-based milk more sustainable than dairy milk?

National Geographic stated that: "Dairy production is responsible for roughly 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions each year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, mostly because cows belch methane." In addition, a lot of energy and water are required to produce feed for cattle and to maintain grazing land and cows.

The carbon footprint and relative environmental impact of plant-based milks are much lower than for dairy milk. Coconut milk is particularly sustainable to produce. That said, the crops that serve as the basis for plant-based milks do require a lot of water--something which almond milk has been criticized for lately, especially in light of the California drought. To address this issue, So Delicious, one large dairy-free milk brand, has been collaborating with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) to conserve water.

4.     How do the taste and texture of dairy and non-dairy milks compare?

Since cow’s milk is high in (natural) sugar and contains fat, it is sweet and creamy. Dairy-free milks can be similarly sweet and creamy, if made with sweet ingredients, such as tiger nuts, millet, barley, or coconut; or fattier ingredients, such as macadamia nuts, coconut, or cashews. Plant-based milks are also extremely creamy, if made with a high ratio of solid ingredients to water and if left unstrained.

5.     Are soy and rice milk dangerous?

Multiple studies have shown that soy milk—which does not contain estrogen (as many believe), but rather phytoestrogen compounds—is healthy. Still, bias against soymilk, which has been drunk in Asia since the second century BC, persists. Rice milk can indeed contain arsenic. To significantly reduce it, boil rice as you would pasta, with 1 part rice to 10 parts water. Then, puree the cooked rice with fresh water to make rice milk. Plus, consider switching between different types of milks.

6.     Will I get enough protein from plant-based milk?

If you are aiming to derive more protein from your diet:

  • Go for soymilk. Soymilk has as much, and sometimes more, protein than dairy milk. For a super-high protein soymilk, opt for the Ultra Soy Milk from Pacific Natural Foods.
  • Make your own peanut milk: Peanut milk has a whopping 8 grams of protein per serving--the same amount as soy or dairy milk!
  • Pick up some pea milk, which contains as much protein as soy or peanut milk. Since pea milk has a strong taste, it's best to purchase this variety. The packaged pea milk has had its flavor neutralized, resulting in a versatile milk.
  • Purchase protein-fortified dairy-free milks, such as the Almond Plus line from So Delicious.
  • Make your own dairy-free milk and fortify it with pea or rice protein powder.
  • When cooking and baking with dairy-free milk, add protein powder. For instance, include a scoop or two of rice or pea protein powder in smoothies.
  • Don’t rely solely on milk, whether dairy-free or dairy, for protein. Also derive protein from other sources in your diet, such as legumes, nuts, and seeds.