10/13/2016

Got Milk? Maybe Not – Choosing the Best Dairy and Non-Dairy

If I didn’t become undone from managing deadlines and trying to out pumpkin neighborhood doorsteps, shopping the milk aisle adds to my failure in the quest to become a competent mother.

Which milk? Navigating the best dairy and nondairy options.

Which milk? Navigating the best dairy and nondairy options.

Once my son was born I knew to breast feed and even surpassed fourteen months of feeding and pumping, which did more than toughen my nipples. It was a year I became the ultimate woman and not in the fun way. Our refrigerator was exclusive to organic and we made the switch from whole after Luc turned three. Then on a health segment I caught on a rare viewing break from “Peg and Cat,” a medical expert said cows were evil. Thus almond milk added more bulk to my grocery bag. Then almond milk reportedly contains few almonds. The confusion continues when you freeze your nose from staring at four refrigerated displays of milk cartons and all its percentages, hormone free, lactose free, soy, almond, cashew, coconut, rice and even hemp, which I thought was the basis of an environmentalists’ wardrobe. I check my phone’s health app but no one will put in writing what I should buy. The store clerk pays my questions with a glance more in line with people who kick pigeons. Thus we bring in Eliza Whetzel, RD to expertly skim the issue of digestible dairy and nondairy options.

 

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Understanding the best choice from the many milk and non dairy options.

Eliza Whetzel, RD expertly reviews digestible dairy and nondairy selections:

What kind of milk should I be drinking?

This is a question I receive on a daily basis from clients. Up until a few years ago, cow’s milk was the only option unless you had access to alternative natural-food stores. Now even your corner Starbucks stocks the gamut.

To answer simply, your dairy (or nondairy) choice is individual, and there is not one right option for everyone. Below I break down pros, and potential cons.

DAIRY

Got milk? Dairy milk gets a bad rap these days, but it remains a great source of nutrition. Cow’s milk comes in many forms, such as whole or skim. Here’s the real skim on the moo.

  • Whole milk: Whole, or full-fat, milk is high in protein, fat, and a great source of vitamins and minerals including calcium, B12 and riboflavin. Full-fat milk promotes satiety, blood sugar control, and helps the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins including A, D, E and K, which are crucial for bone health. It may seem counter-intuitive, but full-fat milk may also help maintain your weight.
  • Skim milk: Skim milk is essentially watered-down whole milk. When the fat is removed, the nutrient profile of the milk declines, along with taste. To compensate for this bland taste many companies will add sugar.
  • Organic + grass-fed vs. conventional: Many conventionally raised cows are pumped full of hormones to increase their milk production and are given antibiotics to stave off the disease created by inhumane living conditions. Not to mention, you probably don’t want to drink herbicide and pesticide residues or GMO ingredients that are typically in the feed of conventional cows. Milk from grass-fed or pasture-raised cows have higher omega-3 content and lack the hormones that have been linked to cancer, hormonal issues including fertility complications and mood swings, and acne.

The Skim: If you do dairy, stick to full-fat milk from organic, grass-fed sources.

LACTOSE FREE DAIRY MILK

Milk is a fluid substance rich in protein and fat produced by mammals for the nourishment of their young. This primary source of nutrition is essential for infant mammals, but the question remains, should we drink it as we grow up? Lactose intolerance and symptoms vary but according to the National Institute of Health, approximately 65% of the human population has lactose sensitivity after infancy.

Why does this happen? As humans grow older, they lose the ability to digest lactose, the main sugar found in dairy products. Lactose is normally digested by lactase, an enzyme produced in the small intestine, but production of this enzyme decreases with age.

The solution to a lack of lactase? Add the lactase enzyme to lactose-free milk and, voila, lactose-free milk. The milk is ultra-pasteurized to ensure that the enzyme is inactive. This process changes the consistency and taste of the milk product, and extends the shelf life.

The Skim: There are some great organic, lactose-free milk products; however, you may want to try a non-dairy alternative.

NONDAIRY MILKS

Among my clients, there’s a general consensus that nondairy milks are “healthier” and more nutritious than dairy products. There’s also a belief that all non-dairy milks are created equal–none of this is true! Many non-dairy milks are lower in protein and are fortified with calcium and vitamin D to mimic levels in cow’s milk. Here’s the breakdown:

ALMOND

The Pros: Almond milk is simple to make, simply blend almonds and water. It’s a great source of vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, and low in calories as long as it’s unsweetened.

The Cons: It’s low in protein, and may not contain adequate amounts of calcium unless it is fortified. Many brands contain carrageenan, a preservative that acts as a thickening agent and stabilizer, which may lead to digestive issues and skin rashes.

The Skim: Choose brands that are carrageenan-free such as 365 Whole Foods or New Barn or make your own.

SOY

The Pros: Soymilk is super accessible and provides similar amounts of protein as dairy milk.

The Cons: Soy is one of the most genetically modified crops. This alone is alarming, but add multiple fillers to these beans and some water, and you get soymilk. Soybeans also contain high levels of phytoestrogens, which mimic the body’s natural estrogen hormones. Soy consumption has been linked to thyroid and other endocrine disorders, as soy contains harmful goitrogens. Furthermore, soy allergies are very common and may cause people to have a tough time digesting soymilk.

The Skim: There are better non-dairy options. I recommend avoiding soymilk.

RICE

The Pros: Rice milk is a great choice for those that have allergies to dairy, nuts, and soy.

The Cons: Rice milk is devoid of any great nutrition properties, and is particularly high in calories, overall carbohydrates, and sugar. It has a naturally watery product, so additives such as gums and starches are often added to create a more “milky” texture.

The Skim: If you can’t have dairy, nuts, or soy, it’s a good option. Otherwise, I don’t recommend rice milk.

COCONUT

The Pros: Coconut milk made by blending lauric-acid rich coconut fats and fibers with water, creating a great source of healthy saturated fats and medium chain fats. These fats are heart-healthy and create a creamy, rich liquid.

The Cons: Coconut milk is low in protein, and many products contain additives such as sweeteners and carrageenan. Watch out for the BPA in canned versions.

The Skim: It’s a great nondairy option, just be sure to choose high-quality brands with less additives such as So Delicious.

HEMP

The Pros: Made from seeds derived from the cannabis plant, hemp milk contains healthy omega 3 and omega 6 fats, as well as iron, phosphorus, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and magnesium.

The Cons: Many versions of hemp milk contain a ton of added sugar and fillers.

The Skim: This milk is great for vegans, who are generally deficient in B12, or those who are allergic to tree nuts, soy and dairy.

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And what are all those other ingredients on the label?

Carrageenan: A non-digestible polysaccharide that has been extracted from red edible seaweeds, used to thicken, stabilize and emulsify products such as non-dairy milks. Carrageenan may lead to inflammation in the body and digestive distress.

Artificial sweeteners: Synthetic sugar substitutes that are many times sweeter than sugar, but add no calories or nutritive value. These sweeteners may be hazardous to your health, but they are definitely hazardous to your waistline, as they may increase sugar cravings.

Soy lecithin: Soy lecithin is an emulsifier that lends a smooth, uniform appearance to products, and is recognized as GRAS (or Generally Recognized as Safe) by the FDA. It is a byproduct from soy, and has all of the same related issues as soymilk (GMO, soy allergies, phytoestrogens). This product is ubiquitous, and generally used in small amounts, but it’s good to be aware.

The Skim: If you have a dairy intolerance/allergy or just prefer nut milk, rotate your milks and choose organic when possible. Check labels so that you can avoid additives such as carrageenan, or make your own milk at home!

The Full-Fat: Bottom Line

Rotate your milks: Variety is key, whether that means drinking organic, grass-fed dairy milk in your coffee or putting carrageenan-free almond milk in your smoothie!

My current rotation includes a mix of carrageenan-free almond and coconut milks and organic, grass-fed, full-fat dairy. Bottoms up!

Read the label, understand the best ingredients, for the best milk on the go options.

Read the label, understand the best ingredients, for the best milk on the go options.

Resources:

Golden State rocks glasses: http://www.sistersoflosangeles.com/collections/glassware/products/golden-state-rocks-sun-smog-or-ski-surf

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