Your local coffee shop not only offers regular lattes, but almond milk and coconut versions as well. And the dairy aisle at the grocery store has been overrun by products that aren’t dairy-based at all.
In a lot of people corn, soy, and dairy protein contribute to problems when it comes to digestion and irritation of the gut lining, said said Dave Asprey, CEO and Founder of The Bulletproof Executive and author of The Bulletproof Diet.
Kristin Struble, MD, FAAP, author of How to Be a Poop Detective agreed: “The most common cause of constipation is dairy. I always recommend staying away from cow’s milk or any other species beside human milk. Dairy contains a protein called casein. It’s dairy’s most inflammatory component and is naturally attached to an opioid. Opioids are well known to cause the G.I. tract to slow down, too.”
Why exactly does dairy cause digestive issues for so many people?
“Cows milk contains many components to produce a healthy cow and therefore our body doesn’t know how to digest it well,” said Struble. “Our immune system creates antibodies to try to fight off all its unknown entities, such as cow immunoglobulins and growth hormone. It triggers inflammation which, as a result, disrupts a very important world of bacteria called our gut microbiome. With a healthy diet, this microbiome is responsible not only for absorbing vitamins and minerals, but also creating many of them. With an unhealthy gut, this process doesn’t work as well.”
So it’s no surprise that cow’s milk alternatives are growing in popularity. If you’re someone who feels bloated or gassy after diving into a cheese plate at happy hour or giving into a milkshake craving, making the swap to a non-dairy milk alternative may be a smart move to ease the load on your digestive tract. Here are some of the varieties you’ll see the sitting on the shelf next to the milk cartons.
The first alternative to give dairy milk a run for it’s money, soy milk has had a very spotted past, often swirled in controversy. It’s produced by soaking, crushing, and cooking soybeans, and then extracting the liquid—which makes it the highest in protein of the milk alternatives (with about 8 grams per cup), and it’s a good source of potassium. A major concern has been the effect of soy on hormones, specifically estrogen levels. While some studies suggest that concentrated supplements of soy proteins may stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells, others show a benefit. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when women with the highest soy protein intake throughout adolescence and early adulthood had a 60 percent lower risk of breast cancer than women with the lowest intakes. When it comes to definitive scientific research, the jury is still out. But there is still a chance that it may cause digestive issues or allergies in some people, and a study conducted by the University of Connecticut showed the men who supplemented with soy protein experienced a blunted rise in testosterone levels in response to resistance training, compared to consuming the same amount of dairy-based whey protein. So if you’re trying to bulk up for summer, you may want to choose another milk for your protein shake.
Almond milk is free of saturated fat and its low calorie count is appealing to those of us trying to shed the winter spare tire (unsweetened or original varieties have between 30 and 60 calories per cup). It’s also high in vitamin E (found naturally naturally in almonds and also added during manufacturing), which acts as an antioxidant in the body. Just like with other non-dairy milks, As with most other non-dairy drinks, almond milk usually contains emulsifiers like carrageenan (a polysaccharide extracted from seaweed) that keeps ingredients from separating and improves the texture. Some research suggests that emulsifiers can disrupt the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut. While the research was only performed on mice, and not replicated in humans, you may want to consider making your own almond milk at home, which is relatively simple.
While almond milk is the most widely recognized of the nut milks, cashew milk is on the rise. It’s creamier than almond, more closely resembling dairy milk. Cashew milk is often fortified, which provides a wide range of nutrients including calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, and zinc. And for those looking to lose weight, or watching their calorie intake, it may be a smart choice: one cup of plain, unsweetened cashew milk contains just 25 calories. A drawback of nut milks are that they don’t offer up the protein of dairy or soy milk (with a measly gram per cup), and since they’re watered down you also don’t get the same levels of other nutrients found naturally in whole nuts.
Sorry, you can’t use the milk to whip up a batch of space brownies. Made by blending hemp seeds and water, the milk offers up slightly more protein with two grams per cup, but it’s still nothing to write home about. While it contains none of the THC found in marijuana, it does offer up omega-3 fatty acids, which make it a smart choice for vegans who aren’t consuming other dietary sources of the healthy fats, like fish. It’s also a good source of iron, another nutrient that vegans are often deficient in (and which isn’t offered by dairy milk).
This milk variety is made by blending cooked rice with water and then adding enzymes that convert starches to sugars, which eats you with a slightly sweet liquid. The sweet undertones and smooth texture make it a popular non-dairy option to add to coffee and smoothies, and it also works well in desserts. It provides nutrients like B vitamins and magnesium, plus it’s higher in carbohydrates, which makes it a good source of energy, as well. If you have some extra time to play around in the kitchen, it couldn’t be easier to make your own homemade rice milk. Simply add rice and water to a blender and blend until smooth (approximately 1 minute), then store in your fridge.
You have two option when it comes to coconut milk. the first is canned, which when refrigerated, separates out into the liquid and a solid mass. The liquid can be used as you would milk, while the fat solids are a great option for thickening smoothies or making homemade ice creams. The coconut milk you’ll find in the carton is much different in texture and nutrition than the thicker canned variety. Coconut milk is thinned out by blending the liquid squeezed from the coconut flesh with water—which drastically cuts calories and fat, while creating a texture similar to low-fat cow’s milk. But, you’re facing the same protein problem as you have with nut milks, with zero grams per cup. But, the milk offers up a tropical favor that tastes great in smoothies. Throw in some hemp seeds, nuts, or peanut butter for a protein boost and you’ve got the perfect morning meal on the go.