Plant-based milks have exploded in popularity in recent years. It’s not just milk, either. Plant-based dairy products, like cheese and even ice cream, are filling shelves in just about every supermarket. Many curious consumers have wondered whether plant-based dairy alternatives are actually any good and if there’s any real benefit to making the switch. After all, the dairy industry has spent decades and billions of dollars trying to convince people that their products are healthy and nutritious. That, however, couldn’t be farther from the truth.
What are Plant-Based Milks
Plant-based milks aren’t really milks in the traditional sense. No one’s sitting there trying to squeeze a liquid out of an almond. Dairy milk is are nutrient-dense secretions produced mammals to feed their newborn young. They contain lots of fats and proteins that the developing animal needs in the earliest stages of their life, and they’re tailored to meet the nutritional needs of that animal’s young. Human breast milk varies greatly from cow’s milk. It’s odd, then, that adult humans would drink the milk produced by other mammals for their young.
Plant-based milks are usually made by taking nuts, seeds or grain, like almonds, hemp hearts, or oats, and blending them with water to a creamy consistency. Most commercial plant-based milks contain sugar and other additives that keep the consistency and texture and make it last longer on the shelf. Many are also fortified with vitamins and minerals, like the calcium and D3 like you’d find in dairy milk. Some also include vitamin B12, which is commonly lacking in most diets. That said, you can take you preferred plant source, like oats or almonds, throw them in a blender with water, blend, and strain out any larger chunks. That’s all it takes to make plant-based milk.
These plant-based milks contain healthy sources of the vital nutrients that humans actually need. Sure, they contain proteins and fats, including added benefits like the omega-3 fatty acids found in hemp milk. However, the fats and nutrients in plant-based milk come from healthier plant sources that don’t contain the cholesterol and other unhealthy components found in dairy milk. Remember, cow’s milk exists to nourish a growing calf, with all the fat a young cow needs, not a human. And, that says nothing for the antibiotics, hormones, and other byproducts of factory farming and modern animal agriculture.
All the plant-based dairy products on the shelves are a good indication of just how versatile these plant milks can be. You can find ice cream made with coconut, almond, sunflower, oat, and even avocado milk. That’s pretty remarkable. There are cheeses made with cashews that actually melt like dairy. Of course, it would be hard to find a plant-based milk that’s not great in a cup of coffee or bowl of cereal in the morning.
Health Benefits of Plant-Based Milk
Choosing plant-based milk brings with it a number of clear health benefits over dairy milk. While there’s a wide range of plant-based milk options, each with its own nutritional profile and trade-offs, some of these benefits are fairly universal.
Plant-based milk doesn’t contain hormones or antibiotics. Cows produce milk to feed their calves after giving birth. At this point, their hormone levels are still very high. Those hormones end up in the milk they produce. Not only that, but farmers often pump farmed animals full of antibiotics to try to keep them healthy and producing milk, even in conditions that are usually filthy. Those antibiotics will also be passed into the milk that the cows produce. Plant-based milk totally avoids both problems. 
Plant-based milks are much lower in saturated fat and completely free of trans fat. Dairy milk is rich in fats to help a growing calf. However, those fats in an adult human can lead to some serious health complications, like high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. In fact, many plant-based milks, like almond and soy milk, contain heart healthy fats.    
Plant-based milks are usually lower in sugar. Many people don’t realize that cow’s milk is rich in sugar. Again, it’s to help fuel a growing calf. While many plant-based milk products do contain sugar, the amount of sugar added can be less than what’s found in dairy. Of course, there are unsweetened plant-based milk, and if you make your own, you can control how much sugar is in the non-dairy milk. 
Everyone is aware that antioxidants are beneficial for numerous reasons. Plant-based milks can be rich in antioxidants. The antioxidants found in plant-based milks can help to prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and several cancers. 
Dairy milk contains essential minerals. What most people don’t realize is that plant-based milk can contain even more of the same essential minerals. A recent study found that soy and pea milks contained higher quantities of minerals like phosphorous, zinc, selenium, and magnesium. 
It’s also important to remember that plant-based milks don’t have to come from a single source. It’s possible to mix several plant sources to make a more nutritionally rich milk. There’s no reason not to mix almonds, oats, hemp, soy, or any other plants to make a super milk of sorts. This can help address any areas where one plant source or another may be lacking in a nutrient. 
Plant-Based Milk: Better for the Environment
Climate change is a serious concern, and it’s only getting worse. What most people don’t realize is just how bad animal agriculture is for the environment. That’s due to both the land being cleared to make way for farmed animals and the emissions that animal agricultural processes produce. In fact, animal agricultural is one of the leading causes of global greenhouse gas emissions, contributing 14.5% or more of total manmade emissions.  
Plant-based milks are significantly better for the environment than dairy. They require less land and water to produce. Plant milks also eliminate many of the emissions caused by farmed animals and the waste they produce.   
While switching to plant-based milks isn’t going to solve all the problems animal agricultural causes for the environment, it’s a step in the right direction, and recent research suggests that every step in the right direction can help mitigate the damage done by climate change. 
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