Updated: Jan 4
Image: Cashew Milk and Squashed Milk - Recipe available in my book: CLICK HERE
I often recommend a plant-based milk over cows milk, but which one is the best and why do I recommend avoiding dairy anyway?
Let me start by saying that cows milk is perfect for baby cows growing and development needs from 0-6 months. After 6 months baby cows are weaned. It's good to note that apart from humans no other 'mammal' drinks milk for longer than ~6 months to 1 year.
Compared to human mothers milk, cows milk has around 3x the protein, 4 x the calcium , more magnesium, more phosphorus, more potassium and more zinc. This makes sense when you understand how quickly a baby cow grows and it's nutrition needs easily exceed that of a human being. Nutritionally the plant-based milk alternative that compares best to cows milk is most definitely soya. Soya milk alternative trumps other options massively, it is a very good source of protein, healthy fats and often contains supplemented calcium, vitamin D and B12. Its iron content may be up to 12x that of cows milk.
PROTEIN & CALCIUM ISSUES
The protein content in many plant-based milk alternatives (apart from soya) is low and the calcium in plant-based milk alternatives is mostly supplemented and may not always be the best for absorption and utilisation in the body. Furthermore if you make your own milk alternative at home, such as nut or rice milk they will also be low in protein and much lower in calcium. But, the context of its use changes the final nutritional value of your meal. For example when serving a homemade nut or rice milk alternative at breakfast with oats, fruits, hemp, chia and linseeds, you can still easily attain ~30% of your calcium and protein daily requirements. If you then add in 300g of low oxalate greens throughout the day, this adds around another 60%,. You now have 90% of daily calcium recommendations met without including any other food you will consume at lunch and dinner and snacks. The take home message here is that milk does not need to be the main source of calcium in your diet, but you should eat plenty of low oxalate greens. There are many many more benefits from eating greens as a source of calcium vs relying on 'milks', another article to be written here on that!
COWS CAN SAVE YOU AND RUIN YOU
In parts of the world where malnourishment exists dairy can be a useful resource and can save lives. A study from Iran: “dairy products are most likely to be beneficial if the background diet is poor“. But in affluent places cows milk is often consumed in excess and it is not actually a need but rather a choice. This choice comes at a cost to the environment via greenhouse gases (currently at around 4% of total emissions), plus harmful health effects including diet‐related chronic diseases, environmental change, foodborne hazards, occupational hazards, and zoonotic diseases.
MILK/DAIRY COMPARED TO WHAT?
Very very few studies compare the health consequences of milk/dairy consumption with those of a wholefood plant-based diet, and we certainly need more! However, a study in 2016 of 221,000 people over ~25 years (more than 5 million person years of follow-up!) showed that replacing just 5% of food intake from dairy with vegetable sources was associated with a 10-24% risk reduction for cardiovascular disease. Suffice to say the dairy industry funded a review to try and discredit this study. They argued that the sources of dairy were not specific – how could they be? – it was such a huge study! No organisation on earth could possibly organise or fund that! The 2nd argument referred to studies where large cheese intake may reduce cholesterol absorption by producing non-absorbent calcium soaps in the gut which get excreted in the stool – basically fatty poop…. This is an obvious outcome when you understand the gut and it’s cholesterol absorption thresholds. In the end it’s fairly hard to discredit a non-industry funded study by an industry funded study but they do try their best.
Factory farmed and free grazing cattle often come into contact with pollutants in the environment which can then be excreted in their milk and also accumulate in their fatty tissue. These pollutants include: pesticides, herbicides, PCBs and other organochlorines such as dioxins, these chemicals can cause serious health issues in humans.
In 2013 a study with a 26yr follow up revealed that total dairy consumption shows a modest increased risk for endometrial cancer. Other studies have revealed an increased risk of prostate cancer. A study of over 130,000 people revealed an increased risk of Parkinson’s. with dairy food, especially for men. There is evidence for and against risks such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. But you have to find good studies to make an informed decision on these matters, you must avoid all direct or indirect 'dairy industry funded' studies. From my research I have found the majority of 'dairy-positive' studies are industry funded!
BONES ‘N’ DEATH…
A Swedish study of >100,000 people over 20 years quotes “A higher consumption of milk in women and men is not accompanied by a lower risk of fracture and instead may be associated with a higher rate of death”. Now this was an observational study so not indicative of cause and effect.
65% of the world is lactose intolerant, meaning they lack the enzyme required to digest the sugar in milk: Lactose. It was once believed that these people had a gene mutation that prevented them from digesting the lactose, now we know that it is the lactose tolerant that have the gene mutation from years of persistently consuming milk passed weaning.
A study of humans drinking ~500ml of milk per day revealed significantly increased blood concentrations of estrogen and progesterone, in men follicle stimulating hormone and testosterone decreased significantly which may affect fertility. In men, women and children urine excretions of the 3 types of estrogen and pregnanediol increased. In women it may influence menstruation cycles and in prepubertal children it may affect sexual maturation.
A 2014 study from the Journal of Bone Metabolism quotes:
“there is little substantive evidence of benefit to bone health from the use of calcium supplements. Against this needs to be balanced the likelihood that calcium supplement use increases the risk of cardiovascular events, formation of kidney stones, and gastrointestinal symptoms, including the risk of admission to hospital with acute gastrointestinal problems. Thus, the balance of risk and benefit seems to be consistently negative. As a result, most organisations providing advice regarding optimisation of bone health, recommend that individuals should obtain their calcium requirement from diet“
GREAT PLANT BASED SOURCES OF CALCIUM:
· Greens – kale, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, watercress, Chinese cabbage, pak choi
· Other veg – butternut squash, sweet potato, cauliflower, okra
· Beans & lentils – especially haricot, white beans and black beans
· Soy milk
· Dried figs
· Chia seeds
WHAT CAUSES CALCIUM LOSS?
· Not exercising
· Sedentary life
· High protein diets
· High salt intake
To read more on this topic I encourage you to check my sources: