“Milk please,” my preschooler directed politely. “In my red cup, with a straw,” he added with a smile.
I shook the bottle of organic, non-homogenized milk, so the cream would disperse from it’s lump at the top of the bottle, then I poured it into the specified red cup.
He slurped it up happily, delighting at the funny popping sucking noise that straw made when he got the last drops in the bottom of his cup. And it got me thinking what a shame it is that cow’s milk has gone out of fashion lately. And how sad it is that people think it’s unnatural to drink the milk of another animal, yet believe it’s perfectly healthy to have a plant-based alternative that is heavily processed.
Humans have been drinking milk for over 10,000 years. Babies are all set up to consume milk from their mothers because they have the enzyme lactase that breaks down the sugar naturally found in milk, called lactose. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, when children were weaned from their mother’s milk, they stopped making the enzyme. But as animals became domesticated, evolution favoured keeping those that kept their lactase enzyme going. Now, a huge part of the world’s population can comfortably drink milk throughout their lives, taking advantage of the fantastic nutrient profile of milk and all the health benefits it gives them. So, why are they now abandoning it for plant-based alternatives?
The view I most commonly come across is that if it’s plant-based it must mean that it’s healthier. But that’s simply not true. Plant-based milk alternatives are very processed. And you don’t have to take my word for it, either. Just have a look at the ingredients of different milks…
Soy milk ingredients: filtered water, soy protein (3.5%), corn maltodextrin, vegetable oils (sunflower, canola), cane sugar, minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium), acidity regulators (332, 450), antioxidant (ascorbic acid), vitamins (B12, D2, A, B2, B1), natural flavour.
Almond milk ingredients: filtered water, cane sugar, ground almonds (2.5%), mineral (calcium), emulsifier (sunflower lecithin), natural flavour, salt, mineral salt (sodium bicarbonate), vegetable gum (gellan), antioxidant (ascorbic acid), vitamins (B12, B2, B1).
Oat milk ingredients: filtered water, milled oats (9%), vegetable oils, minerals (phosphorus, calcium), salt, antioxidant (ascorbic acid), vitamins (B12, A, B2, B1).
Cow’s milk ingredients: fresh milk.
Now, call me crazy, but a milk that contains added sugar and vegetable oils and whatnot seems to me to be far more of a health-threat that a glass of cow’s milk that has only one ingredient: milk. Soy, almonds, oats, rice, whatever, aren’t naturally a milky consistency, so lots of stuff gets added to make it closer to animal milk. Reminds me of the days when infant formula was touted as superior to breastmilk… I think it’s a pretty clear-cut case of the food industry jumping on the latest trend and marketing a cheap, processed food as healthy. They’ve done it for years and clearly it’s made them a lot of money. But I think I’ll stick with good old fashioned milk, thanks.
In case you’re wondering why I poured my son the organic, non-homogenized milk instead of regular milk, well, it’s just more natural. Homogenization breaks up large fat particles into small ones and rearranges the proteins in milk, so the milk looks whiter and stays fresh longer, etc. Now, I’ve never looked into the effects this has on health but I suspect there might be some. Ultimately, it’s just another layer of processing that isn’t needed. To this day, the best milk I’ve ever tasted was raw milk on a dairy farm. And, if my budget will allow it, I like to think I’m giving my son something close to that deliciousness by giving him the most natural milk I can find.