Are Milk Alternatives (Like Soy and Almond Milk) Healthier Than Dairy Milk?
For centuries, dieticians, doctors, and other health professionals touted milk as an essential part of any balanced diet. It’s the first food that most newborns eat, and their only food source for at least a few months after their birth. Milk is such a staple food for so many people that it’s hard to believe that some people are allergic to it, or can’t tolerate it as well as others.
One of the primary components of milk that many people are intolerant of is lactose. This is because the production of lactase, the enzyme that helps the small intestine to absorb lactose, declines significantly after babies are weaned.
This means that for some people, as they mature, their bodies stop producing lactase almost entirely. This makes it extremely difficult and painful for them to digest cow’s milk. There are no ways to reverse or prevent this from happening, but people can take lactase pills to assist their system in digesting dairy.
There are also some people who are born with CMA (cow’s milk allergy), which means that their system is allergic to one or many of the other proteins found in cow’s milk.
Many people who are allergic to cow’s milk find themselves more comfortable drinking other types of animal milk. Goat, buffalo and sheep milks are also regularly drunk by humans, as well as used to make foods like cheese and yogurt.
There are a few other types of animal milk available around the world – including horse, donkey, camel, reindeer, yak, and moose milks — but these rarer milks make up a tiny percentage of what humans consume worldwide.
However, there are tons of people around the world who, for a variety of reasons, aren’t comfortable ingesting animal milk. Whether they’ve chosen a vegan diet or just prefer not to drink it, there are plenty of alternatives for them!
Soy milk originated in China around 200 BCE, but really grew in popularity in the 1800s, after a process was introduced that heated the soy milk and made it easier for humans to digest — fortunately, this process also made it taste better.
The first brand of soy milk was introduced to the States in 1979 by the Vitasoy company, and it really took off once people discovered its nutritional benefits. Soy milk contains about the same amount of protein as cow’s milk, but it contains way more dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals per serving. You can even make it at home, although it’s much easier to buy it in cartons or in individuals serving sizes from the grocery store.
Soy milk is much easier on the planet, as it takes way less energy to produce a gallon of soy milk than to produce a gallon of cow’s milk. Since soybeans are legumes, they also replenish the soil with nitrogen, which makes them a very valuable crop for farmers to have in their fields.