Cow milk used to be all the rage. I remember drinking cow’s milk every day, maybe 2-3 times a day on average as a kid. It was my drink of choice. They told us that it’s “healthy, good for your bones” and it’s very “high in calcium.” It was the nutrient-packed drink my younger self preferred. The truth is, pasteurized cow milk is not healthy. Now, it’s becoming more and more popular to drink an alternative milk, such as almond milk, hemp milk, oat milk, coconut milk, rice milk, or the formerly “only” regular alternative option, soy milk.
Why Not Drink Cow Milk?
1. Cow milk is an unnatural drink.
People joke about how we decided one day that we should drink cow’s milk. It’s weird. Seriously, we drink human milk from our moms as babies, but that’s only because we are mammals. It’s the only food we can eat outside of the womb. We don’t naturally suck on the teet of a mother cow. As babies, we have an enzyme within our gut that is able to digest lactose. Unless we continue to flood our bodies with dairy post-babyhood, we naturally lose that enzyme. So adults and children who are lactose-intolerant are actually just normal.
2. Dairy is not a necessary part of the human diet.
Even though the notorious ‘Food Pyramid’ told many of us as kids that we needed dairy to survive, that’s actually not true. I mean, think about all the lactose-intolerant (aka normal) people you know. Are their nails brittle from malnutrition? Is their hair falling out? Although the United States government STILL preaches grains and dairy in your diet, the reason the government and media pushed it so hard at first was because they had excess powdered milk and silos of grain from the war. Check out more info about that here on the Gastropod podcast.
Although most of us can stomach the stuff, we don’t actually need it. Although cheese is delicious and amazing (and I still eat it), it’s bad for you. We know this.
3. It contains hormones.
Most of cow milk isn’t from real cow moms, as it would be in the wild. Nah. These days, industrial dairy farmers pump cows with synthetic hormones in order to induce milk production. Gross, right? Yeah, I mean, the cow would have hormones in its milk even if it wasn’t put there unnaturally. These hormones are for baby cows so they can grow big and strong. Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is the most common one you will hear about. Essentially, this is the natural growth hormone for cows. Humans have a different, human growth hormone, present in mother’s milk. You wouldn’t drink your friend’s breast milk, so why are you drinking a cow’s?
These hormones promote cell replication, which is awesome for baby cows, but not for humans, because as this article by the American Cancer Society suggests, that could mean (and many times does mean) excess cell growth in humans, which, yeah, causes cancer. That’s the definition of cancer.
4. It contains antibiotics.
“You are what you eat.” Literally, everything you eat enters your body and affects your cells in some sort of way. It doesn’t enter and then you poop it out and you’re all good. The toxins in those Cheetos you just ate will enter your cells. It doesn’t just give you diarrhea. If you eat something with antibiotics, you will also take the antibiotics, which, as we should all know by now, you should only take if you are near-death sick.
Cows who live on industrial farms usually live very closely to other cows, stepping in their own poop, packed into facilities that aren’t spotlessly clean, attached to machines that pump their udders for milk. It’s very, very common for them to get sick. In addition to synthetic hormones, farmers also pump cows with antibiotics. You don’t want that in your body.
5. It causes inflammation.
Cow milk and other animal milks cause bad inflammation in the body because they are high in lactose, a sugar, which isn’t easily digested by the adult human body and can cause problems if consumed too much. It also causes indigestion and other health problems because of the amount of effort it takes for your body to process it.
What are the alternatives?
Thankfully, people care more about their health now than ever before. Instead of consuming pasteurized, processed, hormone- and antibiotic-packed cow’s milk, we’re looking into alternatives. Here are my favorites, ranked:
1. Coconut Milk
The full-fat kind is the best. It’s the least processed and usually comes straight from the coconut. Other coconut milks are watered down and don’t contain as many nutrients, but they are still good. Coconut milk is creamy, much like a whole milk or cream, and it can be used in just about anything cow’s milk can. Coconut milk is jam-packed with nutrients and good fats. It’s easily digested by your body.
The unfortunate thing about coconut milk is that a can of it costs more than a quart of most other milks, so it is pretty pricey. I like to find them in bulk, on sale. It’s sometimes difficult to locate in your average grocery store.
Find some here for $32.80 for a 12-pack.
2. Almond Milk
Almond milk is the most popular it’s ever been. It’s easy to find, cheap, contains good fats, and it’s also pretty easy to make yourself. It has many nutrients and some good fats that provide energy.
Although it may be good for your body and your wallet, almond milk is horrible for the environment. It supports already-overworked almond farmers, many of whom are in California, digging for ground water in an area already devastated by drought. This process is unregulated and is actually causing the state of California to sink by a few inches. They also usually contain some preservatives.
Find some here for $31.24/pack.
3. Rice Milk
You can find rice milk just about anywhere. It’s easy to make yourself, not as bad for the environment (since we use about as much water to cook rice anyway…), and it has the same amount of nutrients as rice. It’s great in horchata and otherwise a good base to a flavored milk.
Rice milk tastes pretty watery. It’s probably the least like cow’s milk. It does not contain good fats like coconut or almond milk do.
4. Hemp Milk
Hemp contains plenty of nutrients, as you can probably tell from all of the pro-marijuana studies you’ve probably seen floating around the Internet. Although this milk won’t get you high, marijuana is in the hemp family (like how all rice are grains, but not all grains are rice, etc.) Once labeled as a superfood, hemp will give you energy and phytonutrients.
Hemp milk is difficult to find in a store and usually very expensive.
Find some here.
5. Oat Milk
Oat milk is gaining in popularity. It’s delicious and if you can make sure it’s certified gluten-free, it is even safe for celiacs. It’s cheaper to make and takes less water to grow/process/manufacture than some other milks on this list.
Many times, oats are cross-contaminated in factories. It’s very difficult to find because it’s newly popular. It’s also made out of a grain, so it causes more unnecessary inflammation than some of the other milks on this list.
6. Cashew Milk
Cashew milk is generally quite healthy, like almond milk, and contains about as many nutrients, good fats, etc. It tastes a bit better, a bit creamier than almond milk, and more like a dairy product.
Cashew milk (and cashews in general) are very expensive. Cashew milk is also difficult to find in stores. Like almond milk, cashews take a lot of water to grow and they are therefore not great for the environment.
7. Soy Milk
Soy milk is easy to find.
There are many reasons not to consume soy. I wouldn’t recommend eating or drinking soy if you can avoid it. There are too many reasons to avoid soy to list here.
There are so many more alternatives to cow milk and other animal milks that it makes too much sense to take advantage of those. They are much better for your body and there are many kinds that can suit any diet. It’s well worth the switch to avoid the serious risks associated with consuming cow milk, especially from large, industrial farms.
I have personally avoided cow’s milk for about 7 years or so now, not because I had any kind of dairy intolerance, but only because cow’s milk has so many risks to your health that it’s not worth it for me.
Research by Angela A Stanton, PhD, indicates that raw milk can be quite good for you, considering many of the nutrients and electrolytes available in raw milk are not present in pasteurized milk. Her research shows benefits from drinking raw milk for people with migraines due to the high amount and variety of electrolytes.
You can read more of her research on Hormones Matter.
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- Why Cow’s Milk is Not Meant for Humans | Grass Root Level
- Almond Milk: A Healthy Alternative to Dairy Milk | Health Continuum
- Easy Veganuary Habits and Hacks | Nourishing Amy