Milk alternatives might not be all they're marketed as. Over the past few years non-dairy milk has really taken off. I remember as a kid when we figured out that me and dairy didn't mix super well the option that was available out there was rice milk and eventually soy came on the scene. Now when we are trying to figure out what non-diary alternative might be best for us we are presented with more choices than I could have imagined as an 8 year old.
People have moved to non-dairy alternatives for a whole bunch of reasons, but the top reasons tend to be: the environment, allergies/intolerance, chosen dietary restrictions (veganism, paleo, etc.). Each of these reasons are 100% valid, but I'm a Nutritionist that believes that more information is always better than less information. It's all about empowerment and making sure the decision we are making actually make sense.
Buckle in this might be a long one, but don't worry I'll put a little TLDR at the bottom of each blurb.
Okay, so we know why people typically decide to switch over to non-dairy milk, now let's figure out if non-dairy milk is worth it.
Environmental reasons: This is probably one of the most frequently referenced reasons people site when they explain why they made the shifts. I'm 100% on board for protecting the environment, but it is super important to make sure that the non-dairy alternative you've chosen to consume is actually a good for the environment.
Not all non-dairy milks are created equally and just because one (oat milk) might be a great environmental choice doesn't mean another (almond milk) has the same positive impact on the environment. The environmental impact of dairy production includes the use of land and water and I'm sorry to burst some bubbles but almond milk isn’t much better. Almond milk production is contributing to the destruction of bee colonies and uses a MASSIVE amount of water for growth and processing, although not equaling that of dairy milk production it is up there and I wouldn't consider it a great choice when thinking of the environmental impacts.
So, what's the better environmental choice?
When we are switching over for environmental reasons better options would be soy and/or oat milk. Also, if you haven't tried oat milk recently they have seriously come a long way in texture and flavor so maybe give it another chance.
Allergies and Intolerance
This one is trickier in that it is 100% individual. If you are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy with no other limitations, then you have the whole world of dairy free alternatives at your disposal, all the nut, oat, hemp, flax, rice, soy, etc milks. Allergies and intolerance get trickier when you are also allergic to other things like nuts and seeds, then your choices are slightly more limited. Either way in this instance there isn’t exactly a “best” choice.
Which is best?
This is a personal/life choice here. You know what you're allergic/intolerant to, so make a decision that won't make you sick. If possible add some variety, i.e. don't only select oat milk each time, provide yourself with some variety within your limitations.
Chosen dietary restrictions/goals:
If you are Vegan, a dairy avoiding Vegetarian, Paleo or whatever the case may be you have decided to eliminate dairy from your diet. With so many different reasons for making the choice to use non-dairy alternatives it really comes down to what you are hoping to achieve.
Each non-dairy alternative provides us with something a little bit different. At this point, unless you are making your dairy alternatives at home the store bought varieties are likely fortified, meaning you will be getting your daily dose of vitamin D and calcium, and likely some vitamin C and a few B vitamins thrown in for good measure.
However, when it comes to protein, fat and carbohydrate content this varies widely between products.
So, what's best?
In this instance the best option is probably going to be variety. Looking into the nutritional facts of your products and being sure to select several that work with your chosen goals and restrictions will be your best bet. I recommend variety so that you provide your body with a variety of different nutrient profiles, also it makes it easier to shop sales this way saving yourself a bit of extra money.
In the end what does this Nutritionist recommend?
Well firstly, if you have no dairy intolerance or restrictions I recommend finding a local dairy producer and supporting a local small scale farm, however if you have already made the decision to exclusively consume dairy alternatives my recommendation to you is variety.
Don't get too hung up on any one product, they each have their own ups and downs, for me almond milk isn't an option (for allergy reason, but also because of the environmental impacts), however that might not be the case for you. Choose what makes the most sense for your diet, health, goals and budget.
What is your fav dairy alternative?
My name is Brittany, I am a Holistic Nutritionist, Yoga Teacher and Certified Personal trainer. My hope is to help inspire, encourage and motivate others to live their happiest and healthiest lives.