The nutrition world is flooded with opposing recommendations, making it confusing for clients and consumers to make informed choices about food. Eat this. Don’t eat that. Drink this. Abstain from that. The list goes on and on. I’m often asked about milk and milk alternatives in particular. Whether it’s mothers trying to make the smartest choices for their kids, or health-conscious eaters, people always ask me what kind of milk is the healthiest and why.
To answer that question, let’s begin with some simple but important reasons that the most common type of milk—pasteurized cow’s milk—isn’t your best option.
What’s wrong with pasteurized cow’s milk?
Humans are the only species on Earth that continue to habitually drink milk after being weaned, and have actually adapted in some segments of the population to be able to do so. All animals (except for one species in the reptile family), stop producing the enzyme to digest lactose in infancy and never drink milk after being weaned.
The intestines aren’t designed for dairy.
The protein molecules in cow dairy are too large for the human body to recognize, which makes them harder to digest.
Pasteurization plays a part, too.
While the pasteurization process kills harmful bacteria in milk, it also destroys some of the good bacteria and enzymes that the human body requires to properly digest the proteins, carbohydrates, and fat in cow’s milk.
You might be allergic.
Some people are actually allergic to the proteins in milk, like casein. For this reason, and because of pasteurization, the body produces excess mucus and antibodies, creating respiratory and other health issues.
It’s all about the pH.
Cow’s milk, like most protein-rich dairy and animal products, is inherently acid-forming. When the body metabolizes milk, the end result is a more acidic overall pH. To neutralize its own pH, the body will naturally process the acid through organs like the kidneys and pull on alkaline reserves from tissue and bones. This means running the risk of excessive buildup of acid in the body, or acidosis.
The give and take of calcium.
To counteract the acidity produced by consuming cow dairy, the body will often pull calcium—which is highly alkalinizing—from the bones and teeth to keep everything in balance. Ironically, too much of this activity leads to weakened and brittle bones. That’s why it’s essential to eat a diet high in alkaline-forming foods.
So, what are the alternatives?
Other animal-based milks.
Dairy alternatives to pasteurized cow’s milk include: raw, unpasteurized cow’s milk; conventional goat and sheep’s milk; and raw goat and sheep’s milk. Of all of these options, raw goat and sheep milk are ideal because you avoid the negatives of pasteurization, as well as some of the protein and acid-related issues associated with drinking cow’s milk.
While drinking raw cow’s milk may be better than conventional goat and sheep’s milk, it’s kind of a toss up. Retail sale of raw milk in New York State is illegal. However, a handful of New York farms with special licensing can sell raw milk directly to consumers. There are plenty of small farms in Connecticut that sell it as well. Take a day trip out of the city for some fresh air and cleaner dairy. Or, if you’re firmly planted in the city but still want access to raw milk, you can order online from farms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The many non-dairy alternatives to pasteurized cow’s milk come from a variety of sources, including produce, nuts, seeds, and grains. Here is a list of my approved picks for non-dairy milks:
Fresh coconut milk. The best kind of coconut milk is made from young Thai coconuts, which contain less starch than the older brown coconuts. Find it freshly made at Juice Press and Juice Generation. Try to avoid canned coconut milk.
Nut milks. Almond, Brazil nut, macadamia, and pecan are some popular options.
Seed milks. Hemp, pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame milks are a much better bet than cow’s milk.
Grain milks. Rice and quinoa milks also have my stamp of approval.
Why not soy milk?
So, why is soy milk NOT on the list? Three letters: G-M-O. Approximately 91-93% of soybeans in the United States come from a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO), which is a scary statistic considering the extremely harmful implications of genetically altered food on the human body.
Even with the non-soy dairy alternative milks, be careful to avoid products that contain carrageenan, a carcinogenic additive found in many boxed or packaged dairy products. To guarantee that you’re getting the healthiest product, verify that brands are carrageenan-free on The Cornucopia Institute‘s website. The ideal is to purchase fresh, non-dairy milk.
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