“I’ve gone vegan and have ditched dairy to help save the environment.”
“Cow’s milk makes me bloated. I think I’m lactose intolerant…”
“I’ve switched to almond milk. It has fewer calories.”
Sales of almond milk and other nuts, oat, and plant-based milks are trending up. People, including student-athletes, are going vegan, having digestive issues, dieting, and concerned about the environment. If you have stopped drinking dairy be sure you understand the impact this can have on the quality of your diet, and ultimately your health. Here is some food for thought.
Plant-Based Milk Is NOT A Nutritionally Equal Swap For Dairy Milk
I refer to almond milk as “almond juice.” It is very low in protein and lacks the nutrient-dense profile of dairy milk. If you choose almond, rice, coconut, or other plant milks, be sure to get your protein elsewhere in your diet. The best non-dairy alternative to cows’ milk in terms of protein is soy milk, with pea milk being second best. (Both soy and pea are legumes, not nuts, and are better sources of protein.)
Plant-Based Milks Are Not Always “Healthier”
In truth, plant milks are ultra-processed beverages. While soy or pea milk offers high-quality protein to build muscle, almond, oat, and other plant milks do not. Student-athletes want to optimize their protein intake to optimize their musculature.
Avoiding Dairy Will Not Do Much To Save The Planet
The best ways for you to save the planet are
- Bike as often as possible instead of riding in a car and
- Stop wasting food. (About 40% of food that gets produced never gets eaten.)
The dairy industry is making significant strides in reducing its carbon footprint. You want to support your local farmers.
Plant Milks Are Low In Protein And More Expensive
- Beverage Protein (g) Cost/ ½ gal (64 oz)
- Dairy milk = 2% Hood 8 $2.89
- Almond milk, Silk original = 1 $3.79
- Oat milk, Silk Oat Yeah = 2 $3.79
- Pea milk, Ripple = 8 $4.99 (48 oz)
- Soy milk, Silk vanilla = 6 $4.39
Plant Milks Fail To Offer Natural Sources Of Calcium
(important for growing bones).
Calcium-fortified beverages, such as soy milk, almond “milk” and other plant milks can help boost your calcium intake, but their calcium is in a form that is not as readily absorbed as dairy milk. If you need to limit your consumption of dairy products because you are lactose intolerant, the preferred milk alternatives are lactose-free milk (such as LactAid Milk), A-2 milk, or soy milk.
Calcium Supplement Does Not Compensate For Avoiding Dairy Milk
Pills are incomplete substitutes for whole food. Dairy milk, for example, is rich in not only calcium and vitamin D but also potassium and phosphorous—nutrients that work in combination to help your body use calcium. Milk is also one of the best sources of riboflavin, a vitamin that helps convert the food you eat into energy. Student-athletes, who generate more energy than their sedentary counterparts, need more riboflavin. If you avoid dairy products, your riboflavin intake is likely to be poor.
In summary, if you need to limit your dairy intake for whatever reason, please replace it with soy milk or pea milk (brand name Ripple), instead of almond, oat, or cashew milks. You might want to meet with a registered dietitian to learn how to balance your diet, given you are missing out on the health-promoting high-quality protein and life-sustaining nutrients found in dairy milk. Avoiding dairy can have long-term health consequences, including shorter height and bones that break easily. You don’t want that to happen!
Read More: Study Says Kids Who Grow Up On Whole Milk Less Likely to Be Overweight