Sustainable Dairy Alternatives to Try
Cow’s milk has been getting a bad rap lately, while vegan substitutes are more popular than ever. It’s not that the dairy options aren’t nutritious, creamy and delicious – they can just be problematic for several reasons. Apart from causing intolerances or allergies in some people, many studies have linked dairy to the increased risk of certain medical conditions, particularly those related to skin and hormones.
Also, dairy farms may rely on antibiotic use to keep animals healthy, which furthers antibiotic resistance in humans. And undeniably, the impact of dairy production on the climate and land and water resources is many times higher than that of any plant-based source of milk.
1. Hazelnut milk
Thought this was a hard nut to crack? Apparently not. A relative newcomer in the nut milk market – and a pricier option – hazelnut milk has a growing following, and understandably so. Along with its well-loved sweet-and-nutty flavour, hazelnut is also high in fibre, antioxidants, essential minerals and protein. Unlike almonds, these nuts are pollinated by the wind and are typically cultivated in regions with more humidity, therefore needing less water. As they grow on trees, hazelnuts help reduce greenhouse emissions, instead of increasing them.
2. Soy milk
Soy milk has had a rollercoaster ride through good and bad lists over the decades, but soy is now back in favour, thanks to continued research. Soy’s protein content and even texture is similar to that of dairy. On the sustainability scale, it ranks well too, given relatively low water requirements. Those with soy allergies have to stay clear of it obviously, however, those concerned about how it affects hormone levels can still enjoy it in moderation.
3. Coconut milk
Exotic, loaded with health benefits and rich with full-bodied flavour and consistency, this cost-efficient alternative is quite the favourite for those on the dairy-free side of the fence. But it’s not without drawbacks. Although coconut palms are considered low-impact to grow, they are only found in the tropics. This means that the always-in-global-demand coconuts have negative consequences on native habitats and communities, gradually changing the surrounding ecosystem and biodiversity. What’s more, palm grove workers tend to be severely underpaid.
4. Oat milk
If you have a dairy intolerance as well as a nut allergy, oat is your hero. In fact, it’s a great selection for anyone, with its wholesome consistency and pleasant flavour. Slightly less nutritious than a bowl of oatmeal, it still proves beneficial with its digestion-friendly soluble fibre content and ability to even out blood sugar levels. It fairs well in sustainability metrics too, as oat is already widely grown and isn’t associated with high greenhouse emissions or land and water use.
5. Almond milk
Tasty, while rather watery, almond milk has lost some popularity in recent years. It’s a healthy alternative that’s rich in vitamin E, but has become controversial because it requires the most amount of water for cultivation among the non-dairy milks. This high-demand speciality crop is bad for bees too (and our planet really needs them). Almonds can only be pollinated by bees, and as a consequence, many commercially-drafted bees die from the multi-faceted demands of large-scale pollination.
There are many other vegan milks you could sample, like cashew, rice, flaxseed and hemp milk. If you’re going cold turkey and cutting out dairy, continue maintaining a balanced diet. Milk is a great source for protein, fat, calcium and other essential minerals too, so make sure you replace the nutrients you’re missing out on with higher servings of other foods and supplements, as needed.
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