Organic Dairy vs. Plant-Based Milk

Perfecting the process of dairy production has been, to say the least, a lengthy process. And yet, in many ways, the revolution of organic dairy and plant-based milks is a return to old practices. People have been drinking cow’s milk and plant-based milk for many years, but only since the dawn of the era of ‘health food’ has research lent itself to determining which form of milk is actually the healthiest.

Here, we’ll look at 4 milks (cow’s milk, soy milk, coconut milk, and almond milk), and examine each option.

Risks and Benefits of Dairy

If you ask anyone on a paleo diet about the benefits of dairy, they will most likely scoff at you; but many body builders swear by that post-workout serving of chocolate milk to replenish not only glucose and glycogen, but protein as well. These are two very different perspectives on the same commodity. One says that it is unnatural and unhealthy to drink the milk of another animal, and the other has no problem with utilizing cow’s milk as a way of replenishing the three vital macronutrients: sugar, protein, and fat (although sugar is far more abundant in chocolate milk than plain).

Though milk has these macronutrients in abundance, it is also difficult to digest for many people around the world. It is believed that 40% of people have some sort of lactose intolerance, including 30 million people in the United States. Milk can also contribute to weight gain, even when consumed in relative moderation, as well as contributing to excess estrogen production. Fortunately, organic milk is free of the hormones rBST or rBGH, which can cause all manner of problems.

According to The American Cancer society, “Milk from rBGH-treated cows has higher levels of IGF-1, a hormone that normally helps some types of cells to grow. Several studies have found that IGF-1 levels at the high end of the normal range may influence the development of certain tumors. Some early studies found a relationship between blood levels of IGF-1 and the development of prostate, breast, colorectal, and other cancers.”

But if one consumes grass fed, organic milk, that risk is mitigated and one can enjoy the benefits of milk’s nutrition profile, while not worrying about cancer risks.

Risks and Benefits of Plant-Based ‘Milks’

Soy Milk: Soy has been a source of dietary controversy since the dawn of the health food era. It seems that there is not a clear consensus on whether you should eat soy. Embodying this controversy is the startling fact that while soy may lower one’s risk of colon cancer, it can potentially increase women’s risk of breast cancer by increasing isoflavone levels, which mimic estrogen and feed hormone-dependent cancers.

But soy milk is also a good source of both protein and calcium, making it a worthy milk replacement, primarily for those who are lactose intolerant.

Coconut Milk: While known for its health benefits, coconut milk should still be consumed in moderation (8-12 oz servings). While the fat in coconut is largely the good kind, the fact remains that there is a lot of it (40g per serving).

Another risk of coconut milk is that it is largely sold in cans, many of which contain the toxin BPA (Bisphenol A), which can cause physical deformities and hormone-dependent tumors. But as long as you buy coconut milk in non-metal containers and you drink it in moderation, coconut milk is a perfectly healthy beverage that is most assuredly advisable to drink.

Almond Milk: For those who don’t have nut allergies, almond milk may be the healthiest of these three plant-based milk options. Unlike the other three milks listed here, it has minimal calories (30-40 per 8 oz serving), with 1g. of protein, 1g. of fiber, and 3g. of fat. Almond milk also poses a minimal cancer risk compared to the other two, and can be consumed in greater volume than the other beverages examined here.

So what kind of milk should you drink?

You may be asking yourself: “Should I drink dairy or plant-based milks?” Or, “Which is healthiest: regular dairy, soy milk, coconut milk, or almond milk?”

Basically, the answer is almond milk. It is the safest one for those who are not allergic to it, it has the fewest calories per serving, and what calories it does have come from high-quality fats and proteins (and that little bit of fiber doesn’t hurt either!).

But the other milks listed here (despite some drawbacks) also have some notable benefits: milk for its nutrition profile, soy milk for its suitability as a milk replacement for those who are lactose intolerant or who have a milk allergy, and coconut milk for the quality of its fatty acids, amino acids and sugars. So raise your glass (regardless of what milk might be in it) and toast to the many kinds of milk!

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