Many of us grew up watching the “Got Milk?” commercials and adorning milk mustaches, but the days of dairy seem to have passed. There are several reasons to ditch cow’s milk, environmental concerns, nutritional benefits or even just for the taste and aesthetic. The new wave of nondairy milk is taking the world by storm, and since the options seem endless, there’s undoubtedly a milk out there for everyone.
Fifteen years ago, the hardest choice you had to make in the milk aisle was deciding between whole and two percent. Today, the simple options of our childhoods have increased tenfold – and the grocery store isn’t the only place. Perhaps you’ve encountered this dilemma as your local barista stares at you expectantly waiting for your choice – almond, oat, coconut, cashew, the list goes on.
University of Miami sophomore Darrel Creary shares the strong distaste for dairy milk that many people of our generation seem to feel.
“Unless I’m using it for baking, I never want it to touch my tongue again,” Creary said. “The consistency, plus thinking about where it came from, was just too much.”
It might seem sudden, but there are a few reasons that have made many stray from cow’s milk in such a relatively short timeframe. In the wake of the “Got Milk?” days of the ‘90s and 2000s, a lot of people realized that the proposed benefits of dairy milk that they grew up hearing — like ‘healthy bones’ or ‘strong muscles’ — were easily outweighed by negative nutritional and environmental impacts of dairy free milk.
Alyson Marquez, a registered dietitian with UM Dining, explains why dairy milk isn’t as good for us as we once thought.
“In general, having food products that are high in fat, especially saturated fat and cholesterol, are not heart healthy,” Marquez said. “Traditional dairy milk fits that profile. Even when you purchase reduced fat milk, it contributes to total cholesterol intake and other at-risk substances such as hormones, antibiotics and pesticides.”
UM Nutrition professor Maria Negahbani agrees.
“Dairy milk is high in saturated fats that have been linked to promoting many chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease,” said Negahbani.
Almond milk is one of the frontrunners in the milk-alternatives movement. It was first super-popularized in the early 2010s as a suitable alternative to milk for people who were vegans or lactose-intolerant.
Though despite its original purpose, more and more people started gravitating toward almond milk because they prefer its taste. It can best be described as a smoother, sweeter and nuttier than cow’s milk – though we now realize, that in some cases, this is due to certain additives companies add into their product.
“The flavored variety can be high in added sugars,” Negahbani said. “They also may have thickeners like carrageenan that can cause possible inflammation or other abdominal distress for some people.”
Some well-known almond milk brands are “Silk” and “Blue Diamond Almond Breeze,” which both sell a variety of almond milk types, from unsweetened to vanilla or chocolate milk. Marquez advises sticking to unsweetened varieties to avoid any of the potentially harmful additives.
Another big draw to milk alternatives is the idea that they reduce the negative environmental impact that the dairy milk industry is known to create.
“Dairy milk takes a larger toll on the environment by requiring much more water to produce than plant-based products such as soy or oat milk,” said Negahbani.
While this is true for the milk alternatives she referenced, the beloved almond milk brands previously mentioned are a little more questionable.
“Silk” and “Blue Diamond Almond Breeze” have received some backlash in recent years, not only over health concerns about their additives but also as people have become more skeptical about the validity of their claimed “positive environmental impacts”. Almond milk production requires high water consumption, and its exportation to countries that don’t produce it creates significant emissions. If sustainability is your driving factor in making the switch, maybe look to one of the many other dairy milk alternatives.
Down to Preference
A well-known successor to almond milk is oat milk, which only became popular in the U.S. around 2016. Oat milk is known to be slightly sweeter and thicker than almond milk, making it a lot of people’s preference. Its production requires much less energy than almond milk or cow’s milk, making it quite an environmentally friendly alternative.
The brand that originated oat milk, “Oatly,” is one of the most popular brands, though several derivative companies have followed it. Among all the milk alternatives, oat milk is also incredibly easy and cheap to make yourself — check out Distraction’s DIY recipe on page 28.
UM sophomore Kasey McPherson, president of “Plant Based Canes,” says her family initially switched to nondairy milk due to taste preference in cereal or coffee, but stuck with it due to the added perks of environmental friendliness and a cleaner nutritional label.
“My digestion is much better, and I never feel bloated or sick in my stomach like I would sometimes when I had dairy milk,” said McPcherson. “It is lower in fat, hormones and additives that can be in dairy milk, which makes me feel better about drinking it.
If neither almond nor oat milk strikes your fancy, many other less-talked-about alternatives offer similar health benefits. Soy milk has been around for decades and, according to Negahbani, is an excellent protein source. Though, she did note that some people don’t like the taste of soy milk, and it can also contain some not-so-great fillers like almond milk.
Cashew and rice milk are two more alternatives Negahbani promotes. A big benefit of two is their low-calorie content.
“Cashew milk has a creamier consistency then other nut milk’s and has heart health benefits. Rice milk is less likely to cause allergies and is a good option for people with lactose intolerance and/or allergies,” said Negahbani.
However, she warned that these milks are naturally higher in sugar content. This is something to be aware of across the board if you’re buying off the shelf instead of making your own at home.
Regarding the vast shift from dairy to nondairy, Negahbani, Marquez and McPherson agree that marketing has played a prominent role.
“Thinking back to when coffee shops like Starbucks started advertising different kinds of drinks and food items with nondairy milk, these headlines grabbed the attention of the younger generation,” said McPherson. “I would like to believe that our generation is more conscious of the environment and that some of the gravitation to nondairy milk had to do with the idea that by drinking oat milk or coconut milk, which sounds yummy anyway, people could reduce their impact on the environment easily.”
At the end of the day, your choice to use milk alternatives — and which ones — really comes down to personal preference.
“Based on the research available, I recommend taking a plant-based milk,” Marquez said. “However, nutrition choices are personal. Make the decision based on available information and one’s lifestyle needs.”
Whatever your prerogative might be for switching to a milk alternative, feel comforted in the fact that your decision isn’t life or death. Unless you’re holding up the Starbucks line while deliberating – then it most definitely is.
MAKE YOUR OWN OATMILK
Oatmilk doesn’t have to break the bank — just make it yourself. It’s not too complicated, and you only need a few easy ingredients. Put it in coffee, smoothies, cereal or even drink it on its own. Just don’t hold us liable if you find oats in your communal bathroom sinks.
– 1 cup rolled oats
– 4-6 cups water — more water for a thinner consistency
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– Optional add-ins: 1 pitted date, 2 tsp maple syrup, 1 tsp cinnamon, a pinch of sea salt
– Add all ingredients to a blender. Blend for 30-40 seconds, just enough to combine all ingredients (over-blending will create slimy oat milk!)
– Most recipes call for cheesecloth, but a college hack is to use a clean tee shirt as a strainer. Put whatever fabric you are using to strain over a bowl and pour your mixture over it.
– Transfer the milk in your bowl to a sealable container and chill in the fridge. Good for up to five days.
Note: you can actually save the oats from the blender to be reused in other recipes.
words_julia hecht. design&photo_isa márquez.
This article was published in Distraction’s Spring 2023 print issue.