Plant-based Milk Alternatives
All About Dairy
Once weaning is done, we may develop a sensitivity to lactose because our digestive systems develop to digest a wider range of complex foods. The digestive enzyme responsible for breaking down the milk sugar lactose is called lactase and decreases in all mammals including humans, once we stop breastfeeding. However, due to lactase persistence, humans continue to produce this enzyme into adulthood. Dairy is a staple in most of our diets. We use it in our favourite beverages; tea and coffee, we eat it with cereals for breakfast and as an addition to several recipes. In some people, these common dairy food products may trigger an intolerance or sensitivity: cow’s milk, cheese, ice cream, butter and yoghurt.
Side Effects of Dairy
For some, going dairy-free may not be an option due to how their bodies react to the proteins and sugars in milk and its by-products. The differences are as follows:
● Lactose Intolerance – also known as lactose malabsorption, being unable to fully digest the sugar (lactose) in milk, common in adults
● Dairy Allergy – also known as dairy sensitivity, an immune reaction to the protein in dairy: casein or whey, common in children under 4 years
There are certain side effects and conditions that are exacerbated from consuming dairy and its by-products:
● Bloating and flatulence (gas)
● Abdominal cramps and stomach pain
● Skin issues – eczema, acne and hives
● Headaches and migraines
● Hay fever, asthma and other allergies
● Severe anaphylaxis
Benefits of Going Dairy-free
There are many reasons to consider going dairy-free. A few benefits you may reap are as follows:
● May reduce acne – dairy is a major cause of oils in the body and helps inflammation grow. Eliminating dairy has been shown to benefit the incidence of acne caused by inflammation when oils get trapped in the pores of our skin and allowing bacteria to grow in the follicles.
● May improve digestion – bloating, gas and diarrhoea are often a result of the difficulty in breaking down lactase after consuming dairy. Eliminating it may help reduce these side effects and promote a healthy digestive system.
● May prevent thyroid issues – dairy products are mucus-forming and the proteins may also trigger inflammation that affects thyroid function. This can lead to low energy, respiratory allergies and a slower metabolism. Going dairy-free improves thyroid issues and allergies.
● May reduce your risk for candida – dairy products that are homogenised and pasteurised often contain additives that can cause yeast overgrowth. To avoid this and further inflammation in the digestive tract, eliminating dairy is encouraged.
● May help with weight management – dairy products contain natural sugars even though they may be plain or unsweetened. Eliminating it during a weight-loss or weight management program may help in muscle strength and toning.
What are the Alternatives?
While consuming dairy contributes to your nutritional intake, eliminating it does not mean you will miss out on essential nutrients. These can be found in an abundance of dairy-free sources as well as in nutritious whole foods. It is important to note that transitioning to a dairy-free diet can be as gradual as you want for your health and lifestyle. If you can’t take your cuppa without milk, we have a few options for you to try out:
1. Milk substitutes – these are lower in fat compared to cow’s milk and include soy, oat, almond, coconut, cashew, hemp seed and coconut milk
2. Yoghurt replacements – made by adding live active cultures to coconut, almond, soy and hemp milk alternatives
3. Cheese substitutes – they contain less protein and can be easily made from home with whole foods like tofu, nuts and nutritional yeast to avoid over-processed versions
4. Butter alternatives – made from vegetable oils like coconut as well as nut and seed butter, such as those made from almond, cashew and sunflower seeds
5. Cream and ice cream alternatives – from coconut cream, frozen bananas for a single ingredient ice cream and fruit sorbets
N.B: It is important to watch out for added sugars, fillers and other artificial ingredients. If possible, try and make these alternative milk products at home to avoid the drawbacks of the overprocessed options that you may find out there.
Plant-based Milk Benefits
They are rich in vitamins and minerals, lower in fat than dairy, do not contain cholesterol and have a healthy combination of mono and polyunsaturated fats.
● Soy Milk – contains all the essential amino acids, but soy is also one of the 8 common allergens that people may be intolerant or sensitive to as well. It is the most nutritionally balanced of the plant-based milk alternatives, and closest to cow’s milk.
● Coconut milk – often praised for its health benefits, coconut milk is a crowd-pleaser. It’s amongst others known to strengthen the immune system. Coconut milk has a naturally creamy and tasty flavour.
● Almond Milk – is a good source of calcium and rich in vitamin E, which is an important antioxidant. Vitamin E can help lower your risk of serious health conditions like stroke, heart disease, and even cancer.
● Cashew Milk – is a good alternative for those who don’t like almond flavour and are concerned about calories, however, it is not very protein-rich.
● Rice Milk – calories mainly come from carbohydrates, making it a good option for active people pre-exercise, particularly for those with nut, dairy, or soy sensitivities.
● Hemp Milk – is one of few plant-based complete proteins, containing all the essential amino acids, and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. It is made out of whole hemp seeds from the hemp plant, cannabis Sativa and is free of soy, lactose, and gluten.