Hi Rachel! Would love to know more about milk substitutes, have read that cows milk is not so good for humans! Chose soya as an alternative as was nearest the nutritional value of cows milk however was for ethical reasons too (over farming).
This week’s blog is inspired by the lovely Miriam who answered my Facebook post and asked me to talk about milk substitutes having decided to avoid cow’s milk for ethical and health reasons.
Such a good question which is a hot consumer issue as so many theories are banded around and the ‘milk shelf’ gives us so many options to choose from! As you know, I’m a dietitian who likes to get to the truth and ensure that people are given holistic, well balanced information which ultimately helps them to lead a healthy and fruitful life!
So I begin… Without knowing Miriam you have led me to a rather complex and multiple-factor issue which has even confused me some-what so no wonder others aren’t sure…
I understand that Miriam has decided to avoid cow’s milk and it’s good that she’s looking for an alternative so she doesn’t miss out on vital nutrients (calcium, protein, vitamins excetera) however, I’d like to just touch on the issues which she has raised which many remain unsure of. The main source of information I’ve drawn from is chapter 6 of ‘Milk and dairy products in human nutrition’ by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations written in 2013. A fully comprehensive, non-biased source who have done extensive research with credible experts and therefore one would argue – the truth as far as we know it today!
Is cow’s milk good for us?
Some argue that cows are ‘pumped full of hormones and antibiotics’ as well as fed on ‘pesticide-ridden crops’ which can cause all manner of health issues for humans such as cancer or arthritis. Without unpacking statements as these it would probably lead any of us to avoid drinking cow’s milk and buying an alternative which is conveniently linked to the website that has made the claim! Unfortunately perhaps, I have no organic super-healthy milk to sell so I’d like to provide the balanced argument as concisely as possible!
Hormones – cows have their own hormones, like we do, and some farms use artificial hormones (namely rBST) to enhance the way the cows produce milk so they can sell more and make more money etc. This raises concerns for animal welfare and public health so some countries (including Europe, UK and Canada) have banned its use – however, some countries do continue to use it. Key message: no British milk should contain rBST and is therefore safe to drink if you are only concerned about this.
Antibiotics – there are a number of diseases and infections that cows are susceptible to if they are not kept in environments which practice good hygiene procedures. If not treated properly, these pathogens could make their way into our milk and cause potential harm. Hence the need for antibiotics. Limits have been set, however, to prevent milk on the shelf containing residues of such drugs – including a regulated withdrawal period between giving a cow antibiotics and then milking them. Key message: cows farmed in Britain, if treated as they are required to, are not continually fed antibiotics which end up in our milk so is therefore safe to drink if you are only concerned about this.
Pesticides – a slightly less blacknwhite issue. You’d be happy to know that there is a lot of regulations in place to minimise risk of pesticides to human health and there has been no concrete evidence to link pesticides used in farming to diseases such as breast cancer. Furthermore – nowadays, pesticides used in farming are ‘gotten rid of’ by the animal body through metabolism and excretion much quicker than previous types and therefore the chemicals are less likely to be in milk by the time we drink it. Also, the pasteurisation process helps to get rid of pesticides before milk is bottled up. Key message: it cannot be guaranteed that there won’t be any residue of pesticide in British cow’s milk, however, the risk of harm to your health is not proven or likely to be worth an avoidance of drinking it.
OK – that is written as concisely as possible! If you want to know more, I really suggest reading the source directly by clicking the link above.
Miriam also mentioned farming as another reason for avoiding cow’s milk. This is something that cannot be avoided – cows are unfortunately sometimes herded into small enclosures to be milked and there are cases of bad practice in farming which is against animal welfare. On the flipside, there are many farmers that carry out good practice and care about having ‘happy cows’ who also rely on us buying their milk to keep their business going. Key message: if animal welfare is a concern of yours, get in touch with your local farm – ask them about how they treat their cows, if you could visit the farm and if it’s possible to buy directly from them? It could turn out cheaper!
Right – the alternatiiiiiives!!
Having said all this, I understand that some of you may choose to still not drink cow’s milk which is perfectly fine. Obviously, milk makes up a huge part of our diet so it is important to find an alternative which works for you and will still give you the nutrients which are good for you…
I took a trip to my local supermarket and bought as many varieties that I could find on the shelves so that I could give them a good scrutiny on nutritional value and price to help you decide what would work for you.
|What is it?||Saturated fat per 100ml (g)||Calcium per 100ml (mg)||Protein per 100ml||Price per 1L (£)|
|Soya||A plant based milk produced from soya beans – so no animal farming involved. Is naturally lactose free.||0.3||120||3g||1.55|
|Almond||Milk made from almonds. No animal farming and naturally lactose free.||0.1||120||0.5||1.85|
|Goats milk||Does what it says on the tin – milk from goats. As the farming industry of goats is smaller than cows it could be argued as more animal welfare friendly.||1.1||120||3||1.75|
|Lactose free||Cows milk with most of the lactose removed to be suitable for people with lactose intolerance.||0.9||124||3.6||1.45|
|Rich & creamy||Unhomogenised pasteurised cow’s milk. ‘Top of the milk’.||3.2||134||4||1.06|
|Semi-skimmed cow’s milk||Milk from British cows, available at supermarkets.||1.1||124||3.5||0.44|
I hope this table has surprised you as much as it has me – and I’m supposed to know all of this already! I’m mainly amazed by the price – just how much more expensive the alternatives are is crazy.
So my conclusion (and you are welcome to disagree) is that unless there is a nutritional need (ie allergic to cow’s milk, lactose intolerance) or you have ethical concerns (regarding farming or animal welfare) – there is no proven advantage to your health, or your purse even, for drinking a milk alternative.
I hope this has been useful – particularly for you Miriam – and others that have stumbled across this week’s blog. Please let me know what you think and also, if you’re in the London area and short of milk do get in touch – I have rather a surplus at the moment!
Healthy lives are fruitful lives.