Video Editor/ Animator: Rahul Sanpui
From our morning chai, to our favourite mitthais, milk in some form or the other is everywhere.
But milk is no longer just dairy. And making the choice can be harder than you'd think.
From almond, soy, rice, to peanut, peas and hemp, everything that can be, is being milked, with each being touted for its own unique advantages.
How do you decide which milk is best for you?
Why Do We Drink Milk?
First, lets look at why we humans are so milk obsessed in the first place.
Humans are the only mammals to keep drinking milk well into their adulthood.
But this wasn't always the case.
A baby's gut produces an enzyme called lactase that helps digest the lactose present in the breast milk they feed on. This stopped when the baby crossed infancy and was weened.
But, thanks to thousands of years of evolution, some human bodies evolved to be able to produce lactase well into their adulthood.
In fact, consuming animal milk and related products wasn’t a thing before about 10,000 years ago when animals started being domesticated.
To put this into perspective how recent that is, humans (as homosapiens) have been around for over 300,000 years now.
Even then, it was only in the late 20th century when milk was first pasteurized, bottled, and widely distributed that it became a staple.
This was also the time it gained the reputation of becoming the first ‘superfood’ with, a must have for growing kids.
In spite of it's popularity, 65 percent of the world's population is still lactose intolarent.
Lactose intolarence is the inability to digest lactose, and it can lead to indigestion, bloating and severe stomach aches.
This and other reasons such as concerns of animal cruelty, and ecological consciousness propelled a shift in the 2000s towards plant based milk.
2000s: When Milk Went Vegan
Now, plant-based milk isn’t a new concept.
Coconut milk has been an integral part of cooking in south India and Southeast Asia for centuries. Soy milk, on the other hand, has been in use in China since the 14 century.
The early 2010s though saw a boom in veganism as a lifestyle and a dietary choice thanks to the growing concern for 'clean eating' and sustainable choices amongst young people.
This was also the time plant-based milks started gaining popularity, and is yet to hit its peak.
The global dairy alternatives market was estimated to be valued at USD 22.6 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach USD 40.6 billion by 2026.
From almonds, soy, and oats, to rice, peanut, peas, and even hemp, with each new plant being milked, the choice becomes harder.
Making your Choice
So how do you decide which one is best for you?
When making the choice, there are certain parameters one can look at. The question then becomes, what do you want from your milk?
If your concern is animal cruelty or you're lactose intolarent, the choice is fairly simple – any of the plant based milk works.
If you're thinking green
If your primary concern is, say, your carbon footprint, almond milk would be the one to reach for.
According to a study conducted by the university of Oxford in 2018, almond milk prodcution was found to release the least amount of green house gasses.
But on the flip side, although its greenhouse emission is only slightly lower than that of oat milk, almond milk production uses much more water than any other plant based milk (though lower than dairy milk).
Going by the study, when it comes to overall sustainability, oat milk seems to be the most environmentally friendly.
If nutrition is on your mind
When it comes to making an environmentally conscious choice, plant-based milk has an obvious edge.
But if we're talking nutrition, its a bit more complicated than that.
Dairy milk is often called the complete food, and this is because it's rich in protein, fat and carbohydrates, and a whole lot of other nutrients.
One glass (245 ml) of dairy milk typically contains 8g of protein. The plant milk that comes the closest to this is soy milk which contains 7g of protein.
Dairy milk is also rich in calcium.
Although plant-based milks are often fortified with calcium, the calcium naturally present in dairy milk is far easier to absorb by the body.
It also contains Riboflavin, a type of vitamin B that helps break down carbohydrates and aids normal cell growth.
Whole dairy milk is also very heavy in fat content. One cup has around 149 calories with 4.6g of saturated fat and some trans fats which are known to increase ‘bad cholesterol’.
Saturated fats are naturally present in small amounts in animal products but not in plants.
Moreover, plant-based milks, in general, have a much lower fat content than whole dairy milk.
Oat milk is high in beta-glucans, a soluble fiber that helps decrease ‘bad cholesterol’ and improve heart health.
Soy milk contains potassium and isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen, that studies suggest, helps prevent cardiovascular issues, and even prostate cancer in older men.
Some studies have also shown that soy, and isoflavones could play a role in preventing breast cancer.
Soy milk, like dairy milk, also contains all nine essential amino acids. Making it a great dairy-free alternative for growing kids.
Almond milk, though low in protein, contains antioxidant Vitamin E, and only 30-50 calories.
There's also the matter of cost
The past few years has seen a boom in vegan diets and plant-based alternatives, not only the world over, but also in India.
Although popular plant-based milk alternatives like soy and almond are widely available in India, they are still largely restricted to urban areas and can be expensive.
The price of plant-based milk especially becomes significant when they are made of ingredients that are not locally sourced, like oat milk.
In that respect, good old dairy milk is not only the most accessible option, but also easy on the pocket.