Almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, soy milk…take a look around your grocery refrigerator section and the alternative “milks” seem to be taking over what used to be the dairy section. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and apparently this holds true in the case of dairy alternatives, as many people are choosing to limit their milk, cheese, yogurt, and overall dairy intake. It’s not that dairy just fell out of favor with a fickle public. Actually, science is now suggesting that dairy isn’t as great for the human body as doctors once thought. For example, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 65 percent of the global population has a reduced ability to digest lactose—the main sugar present in milk—making it impossible (or painful) to drink it. Milk is also cited as the number two food allergy in the U.S., so it’s not surprising that consumption of dairy is way down and the dairy industry’s marketing budget is way up. Thinking that going dairy-free may be right for you? Before you make any dietary changes, check out the six pros and cons of ditching diary for good.
1. PRO: You eliminate an inferior calcium source.
But, wait! Don’t you drink milk and eat yogurt so that your bones will be filled with calcium that helps them to be strong? Sure, milk has calcium, but other sources can be just as rich in the important mineral, without the saturated fat and growth hormones. For example, salmon, white beans, sardines, kale, black-eyed peas, blackstrap molasses, tofu, turnip or collard greens, and orange juice are all great sources of calcium and other important micronutrients (like fiber, folates, and antioxidants.) Additionally, the body often absorbs the calcium in non-dairy sources more easily than calcium from dairy sources. This means non-dairy calcium is more bioavailable, which equates to the calcium present in those sources “counting” more. For example, 1 cup of milk has 300 milligrams of calcium and an absorption rate of 30 percent. On the flip side, one cup of bok choy has the same amount of calcium but a 50 to 60 percent absorption rate—making it a healthier choice!
2. PRO: You help save the planet from global warming.
You do your part to save the environment by recycling, shutting off the faucet when you brush your teeth, and avoiding aerosol sprays. But did you know that by ditching dairy, you could help Mother Earth even more? That’s because cow flatulence (aka methane gas) accounts for a higher percentage of total global emissions than all of the world’s automobiles put together. The transportation sector accounts for 14 percent of global emissions, whereas cows produce a whopping 14.5 to 18 percent of the global total. Want to save the planet? Save it from cows by grabbing a non-dairy alternative.
3. CON: You’ll be missing out on an easy way to build muscle.
Casein and whey are two important proteins found in dairy products. Whey, which is contained in the liquid part of milk, is known as the fast-acting protein because the body can break it down and absorb it quickly. It contains high levels of branched chain amino acids (which your body can’t make on its own) that help you build muscle and recover quickly from hard workouts. Casein—found in milk curd—is known as the slow-acting protein because it gradually releases amino acids into the bloodstream. It contains different amino acids from whey and is high in the important amino acid glutamine. What does glutamine do for you? When your body’s experiencing a lot of stress, whether physical or psychological, it uses glutamine to deal with it. Although your body can make glutamine by itself, if you’re under a ton of stress, it needs outside help. Milk is a quick and easy way to replenish your glutamine stores.
4. PRO: You’re investing in stronger bones and a longer life.
Remember your doctor (and your mom) telling you to drink your milk so that you’ll have strong teeth and bones? Well, guess what? New studies show that your pediatrician and mom may not have been giving perfectly accurate advice. A big study followed more than 100,000 Swedish men and women around for 20 years and shockingly, the women who drank the most milk had the greatest incidence of hip fractures and higher rates of mortality. Men who drank more milk experienced higher rates of mortality, as well. Not only was increased milk consumption associated with increased fracture rate, the people who drank the most of it had higher rates of cancer and heart disease. The reason for the decrease in overall health lies in the presence of D-galactose in milk. This sugar is associated with chronic inflammation, oxidative stress damage, and degeneration of health. Interestingly, the study showed that other forms of dairy didn’t produce this effect and that milk itself was the biggest offender.
5. CON: You’ll have to make sure to get your Vitamin D from another source.
Even though milk isn’t the only way to make sure that you get your recommended daily intake of vitamin D, it is one of the most convenient ones. With vitamin D deficiency rates soaring in the U.S. (three-quarters of adults and teens are deficient), people need to find easy, convenient ways to increase this important micronutrient in their bodies. Vitamin D has many functions, including aiding the absorption of calcium, building bones, preventing rickets, protecting adults from osteoporosis, reducing inflammation, and helping maintain healthy function of the immune system. Deficient individuals catch more colds, feel weaker and achier, sweat more, break more bones, and experience depression more frequently. Some alternative food sources of vitamin D are salmon, tuna, mackerel, and D-fortified products like orange juice.
6. PRO: Cutting out milk could reduce your risk of prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men, and some studies have suggested that a diet rich in high-fat dairy increases men’s chances of getting it. Research suggests three possible reasons for this: the effect of dairy on testosterone levels, the negative impact of high-calcium foods on vitamin D balance, and the increase of serum insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I)—a known cancer-causing agent. A 2012 study found that men with prostate cancer who drank whole milk had an increased risk of their prostate cancer proving lethal. As a side note, it’s important to keep in mind that almond milk and soy milk have shown promise in reducing the risk of prostate cancer—but more research on their potentiality is still needed.