Milk has always been recognized as an essential part of our diets. Whether we’re putting it in our coffee, pouring it over cereal, or making a comforting bowl of macaroni and cheese, dairy products are considered to be the standard. But not all of us can enjoy these products made from cow’s milk. Lactose intolerance affects around 15-75% of adults and pathogens linked to raw, unpasteurized milk can potentially be responsible for foodborne illness around the world.
The dairy industry is responsible for producing astonishing amounts of greenhouse gas emissions on the reg. Dairy milk production relies heavily on land and water use to care for massive herds of dairy cows. In the US alone, 144 gallons of water is necessary just to produce 1 gallon of milk! On top of that, a dairy cow eats about 100 pounds of feed each day, meaning that 34.1 million acres of America’s farmland are required to keep up with their diets.
Enter plant-based milk. These days you can find milk made from just about anything, with popular choices including soy, almond, coconut, and oat. Once a part of the niche market, these ‘alternative’ milk have grown exponentially in popularity, gradually becoming the new norm in replacing dairy. The Plant-Based Foods Association reported plant-based milk sales grew twice as fast as cow’s milk over the past year and continue to thrive through innovative dairy-free products like cheeses, yogurts, and ice cream.
As the market expands, so do the opportunities for alternative milk. Coffee shops are jumping on board the fastest, with chains like Dunkin and Peet’s Coffee offering almond, soy, and oat milk options to customers. Recently, Starbucks has partnered with Oatly -- a current powerhouse in the plant-based market -- to include several oat milk-based specialties on their menu, like the Iced Brown Sugar Oatmilk Shaken Espresso, which has become so popular that most locations are reporting shortages of the alternative milk.
For one, they’re easier on the environment, with most alternatives requiring far less land and water use than cow’s milk. These alternatives are also cruelty-free and don’t contain the additional hormones or antibiotics commonly found in dairy products.
Nutritionally speaking, do they stack up to cow’s milk? The answer is yes, but to some degree. Most plant-based milk is fortified with essential vitamins and nutrients, and only has 25-63% of the fat that cow’s milk has. However, not all of them have the same nutritional profile. The Food Revolution Network has provided an excellent breakdown of several plant-based milks to help give you an idea of what’s best for your diet.
If you’re looking to make the switch from dairy, here are some of our favorite plant-based products on the market:
You can also reduce your environmental impact even further by making your own plant-based milk at home!