With the rise of health trends, non-dairy milks have become as common as millennials trying to make a living on YouTube. A few years ago, seeing soy milk in a family’s refrigerator would have caused an eyebrow or two to raise. Now you can find nearly a dozen plant-based milk options fully-stocked at your local grocery store.
According to Healthline, there are several non-dairy milks that rise above the rest in terms of healthiness. The top 3 recommended include soy, almond, and coconut milk.
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Plant Based Milk Options and The Environment
Along with an increase in human health-consciousness, it’s undeniable that the environment’s health (or, maybe more rightly, a lack thereof) has been on the general public’s mind lately. Everything from how you get to work, to the bag you store your snacks in and everything in between is being called into question. The goal being to minimize every single drop of impact we have on the environment.
An often-forgotten area of contribution to the disaster that is our ecosystem, is the food we eat. The packaging used, the harvesting methods employed, the distance that must be traveled to get to the consumer … every single step of the food production process takes its toll on the environment. Plant-based milks are no exception.
Ah, the soybean. You’d be hard-pressed to drive five miles through any rural state without passing fields bursting with soybeans. Soy seems to be in everything from oil to protein bars. As an especially versatile crop, milk alternatives are no exception.
Soy is more or less the Beyoncé of the agricultural world, meaning it’s in high demand around the globe. Naturally, this means the effects of its growth and processing are amplified. Unfortunately for soymilk lovers, soy isn’t exactly a sustainability shining star. This is particularly true in South America, where soy production is exploding.
One of the largest impacts soy has on its ecosystem is its ability to erode soil. Techniques like conservation tillage can help mitigate this. However, the erosion is still happening at such a high rate that the farming process is destroying land faster than it can be restored.
Not only are soybeans eroding soil, but its farming is also taking a major toll on both the purity and amount of available water where the crop is grown. Chemicals used to make the farming process easier can easily pollute nearby bodies of water. In addition, the amount of water required for soybeans’ survival can easily deplete naturally-occurring resources.
While certainly not the worst of options, the verdict on soymilk is it’s also not the best.
We’ve all heard of the life-altering droughts the state of California has been experiencing in the past few years. Less commonly known, is that the majority of almonds used for almond milk production are grown in California.
It’s estimated that when the growing process is said and done, it takes over 15 gallons of water to produce just 16 almonds. Unfortunately, this means a large amount of desperately-needed water is taken and used for almond farming. Thus leaving California residents high and quite literally dry.
Additionally, the rising popularity of almond-based products means farm land that was previously used for lower water-consumption crops like beans and melons, is being converted over to almonds. That’s not exactly good news for the residents of California.
Another environmentally-unfriendly pitfall of almonds is the pesticide residue they leave behind. The rest of the world is trying to save the honeybees. These guys are definitely a “need to have” as opposed to a “nice to have” when it comes to basic food production. However, almond farming uses a pesticide that is a known toxin to honeybees. Yikes.
Almond milk is a delicious dairy-free option. (Don’t miss this post on Almond Milk, too!) Unfortunately for the environmentally-conscious, it isn’t one that can easily be enjoyed guilt-free. Many people try and make their own Almond Milk at home. Unfortunately, all American Almonds sold in bulk commercially, are required by law to be pasteurized. This process makes it impossible to make almond milk. Therefore, customers are buying unpasteurized almonds from the number two producer, Spain, to make their homemade almond milk in America.
Finally, one of the good guys! Fortunately for everyone with taste buds and a conscience, coconut milk is more than feeling like you’re on a tropical island. It’s also relatively low-impact on this spinning globe we call home.
Part of the reason coconut milk is better for the environment than its other nut friends, is its growing limitations. These limitations mean only growing in areas that already have an abundance of water available. What do you picture when you think of coconuts? It’s probably around a decent amount of water, right? This is great news for water consumption.
Coconut milk is a good choice due to its growth and production’s low level of emissions. Coconut trees are also not a large contributor to global deforestation.
One concern of using coconut-based products is the effect the popular crop has on those producing it. The world has gone cuckoo for coconuts, meaning farmers have to work hard to keep up with the demand. This can often result in unintended consequences for farmers already close to living in poverty.
Every day these farmers focus on producing this single, crucial crop. Hardship is often one harsh bout of rain or soil disease away. One tactic to ensure you’re doing your part is to take the extra few minutes to look for fair trade products.
Though this plant-based milk option is made by blending water with seeds from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa, you’re not going to get any of the mind-bending effects of its controversial cousin, marijuana.
A big hit with your tree-hugger friends, hemp get the stamp of approval for its eco-credibility with organizations like Sierra Club and does not require intensive farming procedures. On the contrary, it grows rapidly, naturally repels weeds, is not prone to diseases, and requires little watering. Hemp also fights global warming by filtering out carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and who doesn’t like saving the planet with their morning cup of coffee?
Hemp milk has an earthy flavor and a creamy consistency, making it optimal for smoothies and a big bowl of cereal. Due to the ever-growing popularity of plant-based milk options, it can be found in many stores. Hemp milk is loaded with healthy fats and proteins. When you compare it to cow’s milk, it has fewer calories, less protein, and carbs, but roughly the same amount of fat.
When you are purchasing hemp milk in the larger, commercial spaces, watch out for added sugar. Salt, thickeners, and other additives may also be added to commercial hemp milk.
Other Health Benefits of Hemp Seeds
Studies from recent years suggest that there may be several health benefits to the consumption of hemp seeds. They may reduce the risk of heart disease, as hemp seeds are a great source of both arginine and gamma-linolenic acid. These have been linked to possibly reducing the risk of heart disease.
In addition, consuming hemp seeds may also be great for your skin. Hemp contains the fatty acids omega-6 and omega-3 in an ideal ratio, which is between 2:1 and 3:1. This perfect balance can help guard your skin against immune responses due to inflammation and the effects of aging. As help milk is rich in omega-6 and omega-3, consumption could do much for the skin and health.
Hemp milk does not have any soy, gluten, or lactose, and is amazing for a vegan diet and for those with diet sensitivities. It is fantastic for lattes, cappuccinos, and other coffee drinks.
It’s incredibly easy to make your own hemp milk. Combine ½ to 1 cup hemp seeds with 3 to 4 cups of water in a blender. You may strain your hemp milk with a cheesecloth, and add maple syrup, vanilla extract, sea salt, dates, or honey for any taste. Hemp milk stores for up to 5 days in your refrigerator.
Flaxseed milk is one of the newer plant-based milk options to hit the shelves, but if you are up for a boost of 1,200 milligrams of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids at 70 calories per cup, this dairy-free milk is for you!
A popular crop since the beginning of civilization, flax seeds provide sizable amounts of protein, fiber, and healthy fats. In addition, they are a good source of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and iron. Like hemp, flax is good for the environment in that it does not much require the use of chemicals against weeds and pests. It’s a hearty plant that grows excellently year after year in temperate and moist climates.
Flax seeds contain lignans, which are plant compounds containing estrogen and antioxidant properties. Both of these can help reduce the risk of cancer and improve overall health. According to one Canadian study that involved 6,000 women, those who consume flax seeds are 18% less likely to develop breast cancer. Additionally, men can also fight cancer with flax seeds. In a study published involving 15 men, those who ingested 30 grams of flax seeds per day while adhering to a low-fat diet reduced their levels of a prostate cancer marker. This suggests that this could ultimately lower mens’ risk of prostate cancer.
Flax, Fiber, and Flavor
Flax seeds are remarkably high in fiber and help promote extraordinary digestive health. They contain 2 types of dietary fiber– soluble (20-40%) and insoluble (60-80%). This health food darling also helps lower cholesterol. In a recent study of individuals with high cholesterol, those who consumed flaxseed daily for three months lowered their total cholesterol by 17% and LDL cholesterol by 20%.
Unsweetened flax milk is considered a great beverage for those with diabetes. Banana enhances and brings out the nutty flavor of the flax. For a delicious and satisfying beverage, blend some banana and flaxseed milk in a blender with ice for a delicious smoothie. There are so many ways to enjoy this healthy and heart-friendly plant based milk option full of amazing health benefits.
Also a newer kid on the plant-based milk block, pecan milk has become an option for those looking for looking beyond dairy-based milk. Stores like Whole Foods are now carrying varieties of the plant-based milk option, with reviews coming in that pecan milk is sweet enough for a cold treat, but not too overpowering.
On the sustainability scale, pecans are considered to leave a smaller footprint than other nuts. A University of Florida study found that when they practiced agroforestry, the practice of growing crops and trees together on the same plot of land, with both cotton and pecans in Florida’s panhandle, groundwater pollution was dramatically reduced.
Recent reports suggest that pecans may be excellent for heart health. According to a study in the journal Nutrients, consuming the nuts daily may have a positive impact on adults who are at-risk for heart disease. This was tested using a sample of 26 men and women. Each participant was overweight, but otherwise healthy. They each spent 4 weeks on one particular kind of diet, and then switched the next 4 remaining weeks to another kind of diet.
The first diet was a control diet with low-fat options high in fruits and vegetables, while the second one was very similar, except that 15% of the total calories were replaced by pecans in the latter diet. Findings proved that the addition of pecans improved insulin sensitivity, especially changes in serum insulin and the function of beta cells. These store and release insulin. While scientists state that further investigation is required to know more about these findings, they show that a balanced diet, with pecans consumed for good measure, could be a gateway to good health.
There are many recipes online for making your very own pecan milk, including one from the American Pecan Council. Pecan milk is quite easy to make if you have a blender, pecans, and a little time. To make variations of the milk, you may roast the pecans before for different flavor profiles. Feel free to experiment and see what works for you, as well as add different sweeteners including stevia, honey, and dates. Pecan milk is great to bake with, and makes a delicious treat for the entire family.
Environmental Impact of Cows’ Milk
The traditional option for calcium-soaked goodness takes a serious toll on the environment as well. If anything, cow’s milk is possibly the worst choice you could possibly make for Mother Earth. High harmful emissions, high use of land, high water use … you could say traditional dairy is a perfect storm.
No matter which non-dairy milk you choose, you’re making an at-least-slightly-better choice for the environment. Every drop in the bucket counts, so to speak, so something as simple as swapping a bad choice for a slightly less-bad choice can add up to make a difference.
Finally, if you’ve been a die-hard dairy fan your entire life, give plant-based milk a try. Whether your reasonings are based on health in general, allergies to lactose or other components of milk, protecting the environment, taste, or any other factor, plant-based milk is a great choice.