Hemp seeds and a glass of homemade hemp milk

7 Healthy Alternatives to Cow’s Milk

Cow’s milk is proven to lead to numerous health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and various forms of cancer. The high saturated fat content can raise LDL cholesterol (the bad kind of cholesterol) and it can also cause digestive problems and persistent acne. After all, more than 60% of the world’s population has some degree of lactose intolerance.

Milk and dairy products are not necessary in the diet and can even be harmful to health. It’s best to consume a healthful diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, and lentils and replace cow’s milk with nondairy milks like almond, soy, or cashew milk. These nutrient-dense foods can help you meet your nutrient requirements with ease—and without the health risks associated with dairy products.

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Dairy also performs poorly when you look at it from a sustainability point of view. Much more land and water are used, and significantly higher amounts of greenhouse gases are emitted, than any of its plant-derived rivals. It’s no wonder the alternative milk industry is expected to reach $41.06 Billion by 2025.

Whether you’re thinking of reducing your dairy intake for health, animal welfare or environmental reasons, there are plenty of non-dairy milk products that are readily available in your local coffee shops and supermarkets. You can even try making your own nut or seed milk at home which is surprisingly straight-forward and rewarding.

Here are my top choices for alternative milks that are just as delicious and much healthier than their bovine-derived counterpart. What’s more, they’re more friendly to the environment (not to mention the cows!) than dairy could ever hope to be. Mooooove along dirty dairy and hello healthy wholesome plant-based milk!

  1. Almond Milk

Almond milk is popular for its slightly sweet and nutty taste as well as it’s smooth consistency. It’s low in calories which makes it a healthy choice, although you might prefer to choose unsweetened almond milk to avoid the added sugar. You can find many varieties including some that are fortified with calcium, B12 or vitamin D.

Although almond production demands a lot of water use compared to many other plant-based milks, it’s still dramatically more environmentally-friendly to produce than dairy.

  1. Coconut Milk
A bottle of coconut milk and a full coconut on a table

If you’re searching for a rich and creamy milk then look no further than the good ol’ coconut. It’s sweet and full of natural healthy fats so it has diverse uses in all kinds of food and drink. Ethically speaking though, the rising global demand for coconuts is putting strain on the production centres in Southeast Asia. In fact, coconut palms are causing deforestation and widespread destruction of natural habitats for multiple species. So, if you do decide to buy coconut milk, you might consider opting for Fair Trade products which have the well-being of the farmers as well as the local ecosystems in mind.

  1. Soya Milk
Soya beans arranged in the shape of a heart

Soya milk has been around much longer than other milk alternatives. Its popularity has had some ups and downs due to myths surrounding phytoestrogen levels, although these health fears have since been debunked. Studies continue to show that soya does not have a negative impact on our body’s natural hormone balance. What you should consider, though, is that genetically modified soya does contain potentially dangerous levels of harmful pesticides. Even if you’re on the fence in the debate about whether GM crops are good or bad, it might be best to err on the side of caution and only buy soya products that are certified organic.

Like oats, soya beans are more environmentally friendly than other milk alternatives because they don’t need much water to grow. The high protein content makes it comparable to cow’s milk but with half the fat. All in all, (organic) soya does a great all-round job as a healthier and more climate-friendly replacement for traditional milk.

  1. Hemp Milk
Hemp seeds

Free from nuts and grains, hemp milk is a rich source of complete plant-based protein as well as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It has a similar consistency to soya milk but with a more neutral flavor. Hemp is a good addition to a balanced diet due to its many health benefits. It is low in saturated (bad) fat whilst having a high polyunsaturated (good) fat content. 

Just like oats, hemp needs very little water to grow, plus it is a naturally resilient crop which can be grown easily without herbicides or pesticides. From the environmental point of view, hemp is one of the most sustainable milk choices.

  1. Oat Milk
Rolled oats with a metal spoon

Oat milk has a wonderfully creamy taste as well as an impressive nutrition profile providing lots of fibre, calcium and iron. On top of the health benefits of drinking oat milk, it scores really well on the sustainability scale too. It is arguably the most environmentally friendly option of all the plant-based alternatives and, based on an in-depth study undertaken by the Swedish oat milk company, Oatly, it produces 80% less greenhouse gases than cow’s milk with just a fraction of the water and land use compared to dairy or other nut-based milks.

  1. Rice Milk

Rice milk is light, sweet and has one of the lowest calorie counts of all the milk alternatives. The downside is that rice needs a lot of water to grow which means that it’s environmental impact is higher than many of the other plant-based milks.

  1. Pea Milk

A relative newcomer on the alternative milk market, peas get a thumbs up when it comes to sustainability and nutrition. Yellow peas need little water to grow and they are also a nitrogen-fixing crop which means they naturally maintain a healthy nitrogen balance in the soil and do not require nitrogen fertiliser. The protein content is the closest to cow’s milk and pea milk is also a good source of potassium, iron and calcium.

With such a wide variety of nutritious plant-based milks available, there really are very few (if any) reasons for anyone to continue drinking cow’s milk.

Do you have a favourite non-dairy milk? Let us know which one and why it’s your favourite in the comments below.

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