There is a dizzying array of milk beverages on the market. Which milk is best? Today you can buy not only dairy milks like cow or goat milk, but also milk alternatives such as soy, almond, coconut, hemp, and rice milks. No doubt this proliferation of choices comes from an increased market demand for milk alternatives due to limited access to good sources of raw cow or goat milk, dairy allergies, and growing trends toward plant-based vegan diets. So what is a real food mama to do?
Which milk is best for my family?
The fact is, adults and growing children (read: already weaned from breast milk or homemade formula) alike need certain nutrients to grow and thrive, not just to survive. Whether or not you and/or your children are getting these nutrients should be the driving factor in determining which food and drink you give to your family. That being said, whole, real raw milk does fulfill these nutrient requirements and is recommended as a nutrient dense food for growing children by the Weston A. Price Foundation if you can get access to a good source.
Real Raw Milk
There are many reasons to drink raw milk, including the fact that raw milk is alive and full of beneficial bacteria and enzymes which are lost during pasteurization. Of all the milk options in the market, only real raw milk from grass-fed animals contains vital fat soluble vitamins A, D, and K2. Many of us are deficient in Vitamin K2. The fact is, pasteurized milk is highly allergenic and can cause a whole host of health issues such as asthma and digestion problems. It is also difficult to find healthy organic milk in stores today. I had many issues with dairy over the years, including irritable bowel syndrome and asthma, and there was a time when I avoided it at all costs. However, raw milk isn’t the same as pasteurized milk. Many who cannot tolerate pasteurized dairy tolerate raw milk very well.
Further reading on dairy milks – Which dairy milk is best: Cow, Goat or Sheep?
But I Can’t Get Raw Milk and/or We Have Dairy Allergies
Because of the choices we have at our disposal, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that all alternatives are the same. If you are looking to replace real raw milk for your family due to allergies or availability, Nourishing Traditions for Baby and Child Care assures us that we can raise healthy children without it and recommends the following:
- Drink lots of bone broth, either straight up or used in soups, sauces, and stews. When making bone broth, add egg shells for extra calcium.
- If allergies are not an issue, eat raw cheese. Raw cheese is legal everywhere, and can be ordered on the Internet (order here) if none is available near you.
- Raw or low temperature pasteurized cream. The fat in cream makes it more stable to heat treatment so low temp pasteurized cream is a good option in the absence of raw.
What About Dairy Alternatives?
While you can purchase all of these dairy alternatives at the grocery store or online, the store bought versions often contain additives including carrageenan, titanium dioxide, synthetic Vitamin A and D, refined sugars, soy lecithin, rancid vegetable oils, and other ‘natural’ flavorings. These are ingredients you do not want to give to your family. I highly recommend seeking a source with only one ingredient (e.g. coconut milk) or making these dairy alternatives yourself so that you know what is in it!
While I cannot address every allergy and will by no means tell you which dairy alternative is right for YOUR family, I am going to provide information on what each of these ‘milks’ are, how you can make some of them, and how they were traditionally used. Please note, while dairy alternatives might be interesting to drink occasionally and cook with, they are low in important nutritive factors and are not optimal for babies or growing children as replacements for more nutrient dense foods like breast milk, homemade baby formulas (including the liver based formula), real raw milk, or bone broth with added calcium.
Coconut milk was traditionally prepared from fresh coconuts, but it can also be made from shredded coconut. You can use coconut milk to cook basic rice and also for curries. I am not a huge fan of drinking coconut milk straight up, but I have made coconut milk kefir which is delicious. Some people even add it to coffee as a non-dairy creamer. Most commercially sold coconut milks have guar gums and other additives in them which can upset your digestion. For drinking, I recommend making it yourself either from fresh coconuts or from shredded coconut. For the occasional use in cooking with rice or curries, I buy coconut milk in a BPA-free can, however, for drinking regularly, I recommend buying this one I found via the Village Green Marketplace which only contains only one ingredient and is stored in a carton: coconut milk.
Almond milk is made by blending together a mixture of finely ground almonds, water, and sometimes sweeteners. It’s actually mostly water by weight, which means that one cup of almond milk contains an estimated nutritional value of only 4 to 5 almonds and only 1 gram of protein. It does contain calcium, vitamins A, E, and D. Make sure when making your own almond milk that you use raw unprocessed almonds (these can be hard to find in the US).
Hemp milk is legal in the United States, however it is just starting to become available. It is produced from the seeds of the hemp plant. This milk contains none of the THC found in marijuana, so rest assured! Most hemp milk is actually made from imported seeds from countries where it is legal to grow hemp. Hemp milk contains more Omega-6s than Omega-3s, but also contains magnesium, calcium, potassium, iron, and zinc so it is a good source for minerals. You can purchase hemp seeds here and I have also seen them for purchase at my local farmers’ market. It is possible to make your own hemp milk using a similar process to making almond milk via your blender.
Rice milk is very starchy and is high in carbs. Rice milk may also contain arsenic depending on how it was made. While rice milk does contain some B vitamins and minerals such as manganese and selenium, it isn’t a great source for calcium, fat, or protein. Make your own rice milk via this method. One lovely traditional recipe is horchata.
Soy was traditionally prepared through a long, slow fermentation processes to make food such as natto (which is rich in Vitamin K2), miso, tempeh, and soy sauce, as well assoy milk. Unfortunately, the soy of today is not treated with the same respect and care. The soy bean should be treated with respect because, like many plants, it has a certain methods of protecting itself from invading insects. The soy bean has high amounts of phytic acid and isoflavones, or plant-based estrogens. In addition, at least in the United States, today’s soy is 90% genetically modified which means it is loaded with pesticides. Modern soy milk (even organic) is not traditionally prepared to properly mitigate these toxins. GMOs, pesticides, phytic acid, and endocrine disruptors do not build healthy bodies. I do not recommend drinking modern soy milk. To make this yourself would be difficult at best and probably not worth the effort given the many risks.