By now we hope you’ve received your copy of Weekday Weekend and tasted some of Emma + Elsie’s delicious recipes. I’ve said it once, but again, what I love so much about this cookbook is its versatility and flexibility. So you eat meat? Cool! Unwilling to sacrifice cheese? (Guilty!) That’s okay too. That said, we’re received lots of wonderful feedback and questions regarding the “dairy rule,” so we wanted to go ahead and tackle milk and milk alternatives. While I’m so excited about this topic, in my reading it seems there are a lot of theories floating around and much research is still inconclusive. We dietitians believe in evidence-based practice, so hopefully we can keep this post as objective, unbiased and informative as possible.
In the cookbook, Lindsey and I preface the “dairy rule” with the disclaimer that we ourselves consume cow’s milk and cow’s milk products. However, we try to follow a few basic rules and shop smart (more on this below). Please understand if cow’s milk isn’t your thing, you can absolutely still consume a healthy, balanced and sometimes superior diet. Some studies even suggest the avoidance of cow’s milk can improve certain conditions like IBS andacne. Furthermore, cow’s milk allergy is considered the most common allergen in children under 2.5, so hallelujah, alternatives exist! Lindsey has already completed loads of research and gone into great detail about calcium and vitamin D, specifically geared towards those plant-based eaters out there—you can read more on recommended intakeshere. But without any further adieu, let’s begin by covering cow’s milk.
Cow’s Milk (8 g protein, 12 g carbohydrate, 0-8 g fat/8 oz )
Okay, so you drink cow’s milk and stock your fridge with cheese and yogurt. Fab. Cow’s milk is affordable, nutritionally balanced and the most easily accessible milk option available to consumers. Providing a healthy amount of protein, calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus, it has long been considered an integral part of every meal. However, is it really as great as some claim? From a socioeconomic perspective, when you consider that nearly20.1 million free lunches are distributed every day in the U.S., there is no arguing that a carton of white milk is a nutritive option when compared to other options available in schools. However, for most of us, it can be very easy to overdo it when it comes to dairy. Reality check: one ounce of cheese (about the size of a pair of dice) equals one dairy serving. (Waah!) That’d make for one sad looking cheese board.
The RDA for calcium (for those 19 years and up) is 1,000-1,200 mg/day, which is easily achieved by consuming 1-2 sources of dairy alongside fresh fruits, veggies and meats. This is why the World Health Organization and the American Diabetes Association are now backing plant-based diets. Friendly reminder, a plant-based diet does not equate to a vegetarian/vegan diet. Plant based just means focusing on mainly fresh fruits, veggies, tubers, legumes and whole grains.
Back to the cows; when shopping for cow’s milk products, here’s what we recommend:
No hormones, ever: Specifically rBGH and rBST. rBGH is a growth hormone given to cows to increase milk production and, interestingly, is not permitted for use in Europe or Canada. While studies are inconclusive, it has been shown that rBGH has caused adverse health effects in animals, so for now, probably best to avoid these hormones.
Try to keep it local: Heck, if you can, tour a neighboring dairy farm so you see exactly where your dairy is coming from. If your local dairy is transparent and welcomes observation and community involvement, chances are the treatment and feeding practices are desirable. Look for cows to be grazing and active—these are signs of healthy cows, which equals healthier consumables for you!
Buy organic: As mentioned above, grass fed or pastured cows, are preferred. For a milk to be labeled organic, the cows must be pastured at least 30% of the time. Furthermore, grass fed cows produce milk with higher omega-3 and CLA content. I typically recommend 1-2 servings of whole fat dairy products a day as the fat aids in vitamin absorption and promotes satiety.
Whether you’re playing by the ‘Weekday Weekend’ rules or if you avoid milk regularly, it’s important to be aware of the many different milk alternatives available to you. With more people seeking alternatives, the market is booming. Interestingly, certain regions of the world have been known to consume milk from camels, reindeer and elk as alternatives. However, for today’s post, we’re going to take a hard look at some of the more attainable milk alternatives:
1. Soy Milk (7 g protein, 4 g carbohydrate, 4 g fat/8 oz)
Perhaps the first real “milk alternative” to hit the scenes, soymilk appeared on U.S. shelves in the mid-1980s. Soy milk is easily accessible to shoppers and an excellent source of protein, vitamin A, vitamin B12, potassium and calcium —great news for vegans and vegetarians!
Despite these perks, questionable claims regarding the health effects of soy have left many puzzled. From possibly causing cancer to affecting fertility, soy is the king of controversy when it comes to health foods. We could go on about this, as there is a lot to consider (spoiler alert: future blog post coming soon!). However, for the sake of this post, I’ll keep it concise. Quality soy is safe in moderation; it does not affect thyroid function in those with healthy thyroids and the American Cancer Society has stated whole soy foods can reduce the risk of certain cancers. When you shop smart (organic, non-sweetened versions), soy milk is an excellent choice when consumed smartly and in moderation.
2. Almond Milk (1 g protein, 1 g carbohydrate, 2.5 g fat/8 oz)
Made using ground almonds and water, almond milk is largely … water. So don’t be surprised when you notice the protein and fat content are significantly lower than, say, a handful of almonds. Almond milk is often fortified with vitamin E, calcium and vitamin D, so it is a good vitamin/mineral substitute if eliminating cow’s milk. Just remember you’ll need to balance your meal with protein and fat coming from other real food sources.
3. Coconut Milk (0 g protein, 2 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat/8 oz)
Coconut milk is quickly becoming all the rage, and for good reason! Remember, we’re talking about the slightly watered down version meant to mimic milk’s consistency, not the stuff you’ll find in the can on grocery store shelves. Coconut milk contains no protein and less calcium than cow’s milk (100 mg/8 oz in coconut milk vs. 300 mg/8 oz in cow’s milk). However, it is a good source of MCT’s, a healthier form of saturated fats which provide a wide range of health benefits when consumed in moderation. RD recommendations to counter the nutrient deficit? Toss in an extra handful of almonds or kale to split the difference and come out on top.
4. Rice Milk (0 g protein, 22 g carbohydrate, 2 g fat/8 oz)
Unless you suffer from multiple severe food allergies, rice milk isn’t my fave. Just look at the nutritionals—it’s basically just starch and water. No protein, minimal fats. Sure, some brands are fortified with calcium, iron and vitamin B12, but for all intents and purposes, I’d try another milk alternative first before settling with rice milk. Also notable, detectable levels of arsenic were found in Consumer Reports testing of rice milk, so it is recommended to consume no more than ½ cup per day and not give regularly to children under 5 unless otherwise advised by a physician.
5. Hemp Milk, Unsweetened (2 g protein, 1 g CHO, 6 g fat/8 oz)
Many say hemp milk is an acquired taste thanks to its earthy, seedy flavor. Once you get past the taste, as long as you are getting calcium from other dietary sources, I give hemp milk the green light! Made by mixing water with cannabis seed (sorry guys, no other snazzy side effects), hemp milk is a great source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids and is often fortified with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12. It’s a great option for those who battle with gas, bloating or other IBS symptoms as it is low in oligosaccharides, the gas producing sugar present in some milk and milk alternatives. The downside is the low calcium content and high price tag that comes with a carton of hemp milk.
6. Goat Milk (9 g protein, 11 g CHO, 10 g fat/8 oz)
Goat’s milk has a nutrition breakdown similar to cow’s milk while being lower in lactose, making it easier for some to digest. It is also higher in vitamin A, potassium and calcium than cow’s milk, making it the preferred post-exercise drink for many, thanks to the extra load of electrolytes. It has a somewhat strong flavor and does contain casein, technically not making it approved for those with a true milk protein allergy. However, studies have shown that goat’s milk is very low in Alpha S1 casein and primarily contains Alpha S2 casein. In layman’s terms, this means that some who have traditionally been unable to tolerate cow’s milk are able to handle goats milk. Depending on the severity of your allergy, goat’s milk may be worth a try after discussing with your physician.
7. Cashew Milk (0 g protein, 1 g CHO, 3.5 g fat/8 oz)
Cashew milk is the slightly more nutritious option than almond milk, thanks to the added fiber, antioxidants and copper present (which aids in iron absorption). Cashew milk is a good option for those who are wary of soy milk but still want a little more bang-for-their buck than almond milk. Take note of its miniscule protein content and be sure to incorporate real food protein to make up for this loss.
8. Pea Milk (8 g protein, 7 g carb, 5 g fat/8 oz)
Pea milk is quickly becoming my new obsession. I mean really, it’s equivalent in protein to cows milk while providing fewer carbs, #winning! It has 50% more calcium than cow’s milk and legit, tastes a lot like milk. Only downside is the higher than usual amount of omega 6 fatty acids. However, some brands, likeRipple, do a great job at counteracting this by adding in extra omega 3’s.
Whichever route you choose to go with milk, just do your research and remember, everything is good in moderation. Unless you are affected by malnutrition, malabsorption or another medical condition where your physician asks you to supplement your diet, most of us following a healthy diet don’t need more than a glass or two of milk/milk sub a day. Lindsey is going to chime in with some information regarding pasteurization of milk products, as I think there is some confusion about this process. Thanks, as always, for reading and please feel free to comment with your favorite milk alternative!
A note from Lindsey:
Ultra-pasteurization. What in the world does this even mean? How is it done? Why is it done? Why does it seem like organic milk is always ultra-pasteurized? Does it mess my milk up? There are a few of the questions you may have around the subject of ultra-pasteurization and I am here to clear the air. Pasteurization is a process that involves heating milk to kill potentially harmful (and beneficial) bacteria and extend shelf life. Your standard gallon of milk is typically pasteurized by a process called High Temperature Short Time or HTST. This involves heating milk to 161 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds. Ultra-pasteurized milk is heated to a higher temp (280 degrees) for 2 seconds in a process called Ultra High Temperature (UHT) pasteurization. So why the difference? It all comes down to shelf life. While standard pasteurized milk and UHT milk both spoil in about five days after they’re opened, before opening UHT milk will not spoil for 70 days versus 15-21 days for standard pasteurization. This is desirable from a retailer’s standpoint and is why many organic milk brands offer a UHT version of their milk—the retailers are more likely to carry organic milk in their store when they are unsure of how it will sell if it can stay on the shelf longer. Critics of UHT milk cite that nutrient content is lower and proteins are damaged in the process that may be harmful. However, evidence suggests UHT and HTST milk is similar in nutrient content to raw milk. While changes to proteins in the milk may occur after pasteurization, evidence that this is harmful is lacking. Pasteurization does kill some bacteria that may be beneficial, but this does not make the milk unsafe. So, don’t feel alarmed when you see the terms pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized on your milk’s label.