Increasing instances of lactose intolerance and wariness with the dairy industry are primary motivations behind the giant rise of vegan-friendly alternative milks. Consumer awareness and acceptance of plant-based milks has been soaring in recent years to the verge of mainstream popularity. Although soy milk remained the top non-dairy alternative in recent years, almond milk was second with a 79% increase in sales. Almond milk contains protein, vitamins and minerals, making it a nutritious and delicious alternative to traditional milk.
Don’t have a cow?
Sales of cow’s milk have fallen steadily in recent years. Besides overt digestion problems associated with lactose, there is no shortage of concerns regarding the dairy industry. As opposed to the romantic notion of happy animals on spacious farms, modern cows are “bred, fed, medicated, inseminated, and manipulated for a single purpose – maximum milk production at a minimum cost” (John Robbins). A dairy cow must give birth in order to produce milk and so they are fed synthetic growth hormones and artificially inseminated every year, with the resulting calf surplus sold to the veal industry. After about four years of producing seven times more milk than natural, their worn out bodies are made into hamburger. Stress and disease caused by these conditions, such as mastitis, increase the levels of pus and are treated with antibiotics, both of which may subsequently appear microscopically in the milk. Several other unappetizing claims have been raised although the most worrying issues can be resolved by drinking organic. Even the common belief that milk builds strong bones has been refuted by the strong correlation of dairy consumption with osteoporosis.
The Almond Alternative
Non-dairy alternatives have been steadily growing over the past decade but while soy milk was the early leader in this market, its share has been slipping in favour of almond and rice milks. Of these, almond milks have seen the greatest increase in sales, with relatively low caloric content and nutritious properties including vitamin A, D, E, riboflavin, magnesium and antioxidants. It has less sugar than soy milks and no cholesterol or saturated fats, unlike cow’s milk. Like dairy products, almonds naturally contain calcium, the mineral needed to build strong bones, but manufacturers also fortify almond milk with additional calcium. It is a source of dietary protein, which provides the body with essential amino acids used to build and repair cells. Plus, nutrition aside, almond milk doesn’t need to be refrigerated so is easier to store, particularly for hotter regions of the world.
Even dairy alternatives are not immune from health concern – case in point, carrageenan. Derived from red seaweed, it has long been used to improve the texture of food, including the viscosity of plant milks. Although it is deemed “generally safe,”in clinical research it has induced inflammatory responses in rats, and as with other food additives there may be unknown cancerous properties. In modest quantities it is harmless, but until you have your food safety certificate you can always just avoid the debate by throwing a handful of almonds and water in a blender and make your own.