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       Volume I - September 11, 2009

Tasty Alternatives to Traditional Cow’s Milk
by Alice Osborne & Patty Liston

Information Courtesy Care2 and Melissa Breyer

Some people have pretty compelling arguments against drinking milk. We’ve hopped on and off the milk-drinking fence so many times we are not sure which side we’re on. But a few things are sure: If you are vegan, lactose intolerant, or have a milk allergy, you probably use milk alternatives.

Some might also switch to milk alternatives for taste, or to lower their saturated fat intake (although skim cow’s milk is non-fat, some find milk alternatives are a better tasting way to avoid saturated fat). We would convert, once and for all, to non-dairy milk if we couldn’t get milk from rBGH-free cows.

Here are a number of persuasive reasons to wean oneself from cow milk, and we want to thank Melissa Breyer of Care2 for this information. Read on to see if you should stop drinking milk and give non-dairy alternatives a try:

The Vegan Case: The cruelty inherent in industrial farming is well known and the milk can be quite unhealthy. Dairy farms also create serious environmental problems. For instance, the dairy-products industry is the primary source of smog-forming pollutants in California—one cow emits more of these harmful gases than a car does.

The last common argument for a dairy free life is that cow’s milk is made for cows. We are the only mammal that drinks the milk of another mammal—and science has proven we were just not meant to do that (as evidenced by our inadequate lactase production).

Intolerance and Allergies: Lactase is the enzyme produced in our small intestine that breaks down lactose, the natural sugar in any milk. In toddler-hood we begin producing less lactase. It is the reduction of lactase that leads to lactose intolerance — which is the inability to properly digest milk.

Millions of Americans are lactose intolerant, and an estimated 90% of Asian-Americans and 75% of Native- and African-Americans suffer from the condition. Lactose intolerance can cause bloating, gas, cramps, vomiting, headaches, rashes, and asthma. Having a milk allergy is different: in this case the body has an allergic reaction to one or more of the proteins in milk (casein, whey, and lactalbumin). Milk allergies can incite gastric distress, as well as skin problems like rashes and eczema, and runny noses or nasal congestion.

The Calcium Issue: Since we do need some calcium, it seems sensible then, that our bodies really do need milk. Nope—not according to sound scientific research. According to findings reported in the British periodical The Guardian, “American women are among the biggest consumers of calcium in the world, yet still have one of the highest levels of osteoporosis in the world… Most Chinese people eat and drink no dairy products and consume only half the calcium of Americans…yet osteoporosis is uncommon in China despite an average life expectancy of 70.”

Researchers say that the bone loss and deteriorating bone tissue that take place in osteoporosis are due not to calcium deficiency but rather to its resorption: it’s not that our bodies don’t get enough calcium, rather that they excrete too much of what they already have. We have to wonder if our need for calcium from dairy is just a very deep-seated myth perpetuated by the dairy industry.

The Alternatives: With all this in mind, let’s look at the alternatives. One of the reasons that milk is so popular (besides the slick marketing of the dairy industry and their lobbiests, we mean) is because it’s an excellent source of fortified (added) calcium, B12, riboflavin, and vitamin D. So if you go the milk alternative route, study labels and look for something that’s fortified—alternatives won’t automatically contain those ingredients.

Another reason to read labels—the amount of sugar some of these products have. One popular brand of soy milk rang in with a dizzying 19 grams of sugar per serving: that’s the equivalent of almost five teaspoons of sugar!

Almond Milk: With only 2 grams of protein per 8 ounces, almond milk is not that impressive in the protein department—but almonds are one of the healthiest foods around. They’re rich in magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper, the antioxidants vitamin E and selenium, and calcium. Almond milk has a nice sweet, nutty flavor and a good consistency, which makes it good for drinking as well as a good dairy substitute in cooking.

Hemp Milk: Hemp milk is new to the market and is made from seeds grown in Canada, where growing hemp is legal. It is a good source of omega-3 and -6 essential fatty acids, calcium, and phosphorous, and is commonly fortified with other vitamins and minerals. One very delicious brand, Living Harvest, states that unlike soy protein, hemp protein doesn’t contain high levels of enzyme inhibitors, phytates, which can interfere with the proper assimilation of essential minerals, or oligosaccharides which cause flatulence and stomach distress.

Oat Milk: Oat milk is gaining in popularity and availability. It is high in fiber, is cholesterol and lactose free, and contains vitamin E, folic acid, and other trace elements and minerals. Oats are also rich in phytochemicals, naturally occurring chemicals in plants that help fight diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and stroke. It is said to be highly tolerated by people with multiple allergies—however it’s not good for people with gluten intolerance.

Rice Milk: Rice milk is processed from brown rice and typically contains rice syrup, evaporated cane juice or another natural sweetener. It is usually fortified with calcium or vitamin D. It is generally very sweet, and pretty watery. The main drawback of rice milk is that it is mainly just a source of carbohydrates—it is a good dairy substitute for cooking, but shouldn’t be used as a replacement for nutrients.

Soy Milk: There was a time when soy was considered nothing short of a miracle bean. But times have changed. The preponderance of GMO strains drifting into soy fields is alarming (it is estimated that 90% of soy is genetically modified), and people are increasingly acquiring quite serious allergies to soy.

If you drink a lot of soy milk, you might want to read the arguments about possible health issues associated with soy. Dr. Kaayle Daniel, author of the book The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Health Food says: “Soy isoflavones – the plant estrogens in soy most often credited with cancer prevention – are listed as carcinogens in many toxicology textbooks. They have also been proven to be mutagenic, clastogenic and teratogenic.” Excessive soy intake has also been linked to an increased risk of thyroid disease, and some feel that soy’s phytoestrogens may attenuate testosterone levels in boys. The jury may still be out on soy, but the bottom line might just be that soy milk is significantly more processed than the other milk alternatives.

“Not-Milk” Milk Recipes: Milk alternatives can easily be made at home. Consider these:

30-Second Nut Milk
Inspired by Raw Food, Real World (Regan Books, 2005)

2 heaping tablespoons raw nut butter
2 cups filtered water
Pinch of sea salt
2 tablespoons agave nectar or 1 packet stevia
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon coconut butter (optional)

In a blender, puree all ingredients until smooth.

  Download this recipe.

Basic Almond Milk

1 cup raw almonds, soaked at least 4 hours
3 cups filtered water

1. In a high-speed blender blend the nuts and water for about 2 minutes until the nuts are completely blended.
2. Strain the mix through multiple layers of cheesecloth in a colander two times.

  Download this recipe.

Almond Nog
Adapted from a recipe at

1 batch basic almond milk
5 large soft pitted dates
2 very ripe bananas
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup raw macadamia nuts (optional)

In a high-speed blender add all ingredients and blend until combined.
Adjust sweetness to taste by adding more or less dates.
The macadamia nuts are optional but they will give the drink a thicker consistency.

  Download this recipe.

Cashew Milk

1/2 cup raw cashew pieces
2 cups water
1 tablespoon maple syrup

Combine cashews with 1 cup water and maple syrup in blender.
Blend on high until thick and creamy.
Slowly add remaining water and blend on high for 2 minutes.
Strain if desired.

  Download this recipe.

Hemp Milk

Hemp milk contains 33% protein and Canadian studies point to hemp protein as being the highest quality found in any plant. Hemp also offers well-balanced essential fatty acids that our bodies require and don’t make themselves. The key for making quick and easy hemp milk is to buy shelled hemp seeds. I called four local natural food stores and all carried shelled hemp seeds, so it is easy to go this route. Otherwise you have to take extra measures to strain out the shells. Check the dates on your seeds to make sure that you buy the freshest seeds possible. Store in a dark place. Sunlight will destroy the oils’ benefits and make the seeds rancid.

¼ cup shelled hemp seeds
1 cup warm water
Flavoring (vanilla, honey, etc.)

1. Combine all the ingredients in a blender.

Some recipes for unshelled hemp seeds are more complex, but here is an example.

  Download this recipe.

Inspired by a recipe by Gale Gand from the Food Network

1 cup long grain white rice
2 cups almonds
1-inch piece cinnamon bark
8 cups water
1/2 organic sugar (or your favorite sweetener)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Wash and drain the rice.
2. Use a spice grinder, or electric coffee grinder, and grind the rice until fine.
3. Combine rice with the almonds and cinnamon bark. Add 3 1/2 cups water, cover, and let sit overnight.
4. In a blender, blend rice mixture until smooth. Add 2 1/2 cups of water and continue blending. Add sweetener and vanilla extract.
5. Strain horchata with a metal strainer, and then again using a double layer of cheesecloth.
6. Add up to an additional 2 cups of water until it you get the consistency you like.

  Download this recipe.

Macadamia Milk
Inspired by Raw Food, Real World (Regan Books, 2005)

1 cup macadmaia nuts, soaked 1 hour or more
3 cups filtered water
3 tablespoons agave nectar
2 tablespoons coconut butter (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (optional)
pinch of sea salt (optional)

1. In a blender, blend the nuts and water on high speed for about 2 minutes.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend to combine.
3. Strain if you want it super creamy, or drink as is.

  Download this recipe.

Oat Milk

2 cups cooked oatmeal
4 cups water
1 ripe banana
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt (optional)
Sweetener to taste (if desired)

1. Place all ingredients in blender and process until smooth about 2-3 minutes.
2. Chill, and shake before using.

  Download this recipe.

Rice Milk
Inspired by a recipe from Mothering Magazine

1/2 cup brown rice
8 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Place rice, 8 cups water, and salt in pan.
2. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low and simmer 3 hours, or until rice is very soft. (You can also do this in a slow cooker overnight.)
3. In blender, puree rice mixture with remaining ingredients. You will have to do it in two batches. Puree each batch at least 2 or 3 minutes to completely liquefy the rice.
4. Add more water if you prefer it thinner.

  Download this recipe.

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