Which Milk Is The Healthiest For You And Best For The Environment?
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If you’re following a vegetarian diet, you might be consuming cow’s milk as it’s considered a vegetarian drink.
However, you may be asking yourself if it’s safe to drink cow’s milk? And the issue of safety in this question is not only about health but also about environmental health.
In this article, we will evaluate whether milk benefits our body, if it can be replaced with its plant-based counterparts, and what impact milk has on the environment.
Benefits of drinking dairy milk
Milk has been one of the most consumed drinks in the world for centuries. And it certainly provides some nutritional benefits.
Cow’s milk is a good source of protein, calcium, vitamins A and B12. These nutrients are crucial for having healthy bones, strong muscles, forming red blood cells, eye health, and many bodily functions.
However, like with any food and drink, milk should be consumed in moderation. Drinking too much milk may show cause side effects such as fatigue, acne, and digestive problems like bloating, cramps, or diarrhoea.
Is drinking milk bad for you?
Back in the day, milk was considered the most important drink for healthy bones. A recent review mentioned that calcium, the main component in milk that contributes to healthy bones, can be obtained from other sources like tofu, broccoli and nuts.
However, milk does still clearly provide nutritional benefits, especially for those with low quality diets, but the emphasis should be on 1 or 2 servings a day as a maximum and reducing the amount of whole fat milk consumed.
The overall attitude toward milk has soured slightly in recent years, especially after reading and watching all the documents on its production. An increase in plant-based milk options may also have had some effect on it.
Comparing types of milk
If you don’t drink dairy milk, many plant-based milk options can provide you with nutritional benefits. Below you can find the nutritional comparison of cow’s milk to some sugar-free plant-based milk options.
Remember that nutritional values may vary by brand and whether the milk is fortified. So, make sure to check the ingredient label and be careful with the added sugars.
|Portion: 1 cup (240 ml)||Cow’s Milk||Soy Milk||Oat Milk||Hemp Milk||Almond Milk|
|– Fiber (g)||0||2||2||0||1|
|Calcium (mg)||300 mg||300 mg||350 mg||283 mg||101 mg|
As can be seen from the table, except for soy milk, other plant-based milk options are a bit lower in protein than cow’s milk.
The reason why soy milk is closest to cow’s milk nutrition is that soybeans are a complete protein source. Moreover, soy milk is usually fortified with vitamins and minerals to resemble cow’s milk nutrition.
Other types of plant-based milk offer different nutritional benefits as well.
For example, hemp seeds are naturally high in omega-3 and omega-6 unsaturated fats.
Oat milk has a higher carbohydrate level than any other plant milk but it also provides soluble fiber. This type of fiber in oat milk helps you feel full longer, have regular bowel movements, improve blood glucose, and reduce LDL (aka “bad”) cholesterol levels.
Unsweetened almond milk is much lower in carbs than cow’s milk, so it’s a good choice if you’re on a low-carb diet. It’s also naturally high in the antioxidant vitamin E.
Is milk healthy? Which milk is the healthiest?
Whether you choose to drink cow’s milk or not due to dietary preferences or environmental reasons, you may wonder which milk is the healthiest for you.
We can’t say that one is better than the other as they all provide health benefits. So, a good strategy may be to mix up different types to get the best of each alongside a healthy diet overall.
Environmental impact – milk benefits and disadvantages
Every action we make has an environmental impact, and what we choose to eat and drink has one of the biggest impacts. And these impacts are mostly negative, ranging from masses of water being used in production to deforestation to animal cruelty and transportation pollution.
We can’t have “no impact” on the environment but we can lower our negative environmental impact by making better choices.
There are many ways we can do this, and this one article won’t be able to tell you all. But by making one small change of swapping dairy milk for plant-based milk, we can lower our negative environmental impact.
Using the climate change calculator from the BBC, we can see different metrics when measuring environmental impacts between products.
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Here are some examples of how cow’s milk and oat milk differ in their environmental effect in terms of water use, greenhouse gas emissions, and land use.
Having one glass of oat milk every day for a year will require 3,512 liters of water (equivalent to 54 showers lasting eight minutes).
But having one glass of dairy milk every day for a year would require a staggering 45,733 liters of water (equivalent to 703 showers lasting eight minutes).
Greenhouse gas emissions:
A glass of oat milk every day will require 65 kg of greenhouse gas emissions each year (equivalent to driving a petrol car 168 miles or 270 km).
But a glass of dairy milk every day will require 229 kg of greenhouse gasses (equivalent to driving a petrol car 585 miles or 941 km).
A glass of dairy milk every day adds up to 652m² of land being used, which equals the space of two tennis courts. The land used for producing a glass of oat milk every day is too small to be measured on the calculator.
Can you see the massive difference you can make by just swapping your daily glass of milk to oat milk? And remember that these numbers are only for one person.
Think about how many of us there are and how big of a difference we can make together by just one small change in our diet.
If you’re used to drinking cow’s milk or having milk with your coffee or cereal in the morning, it might seem hard for you to make a change. But you don’t have to go cold turkey.
You can start with swapping your regular latte to an oat latte. Then, you can try the change for other foods and drinks too.
The bottom line
When it comes to overall health benefits, we can say that milk is neither a hero nor a villain. However, milk fails the class compared to its plant-based counterparts in terms of its environmental impacts.
Whether or not consuming milk is your call. If you feel like you cannot give up drinking cow’s milk, you can at least try lowering the amount you consume for environmental purposes.
Remember that even a small change that we make causes a great impact on the environment.
Here are some milk-based recipes ideas for you to try out. Of course, you can use your new favourite milk in each and see how they taste!