Scientists agree that the dairy industry has an overall negative affect on the environment. For starters, it takes a lot of land, fertilizer and water to grow food for the cows. It also takes a lot of energy to process raw milk, package it and deliver the goods to supermarkets around the world. Then, there is the fact that cows generate loads of methane, which is more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide. With the dairy industry disrupting the environment, more people are turning to alternative sources to meet their dietary needs.
There are a variety of milk alternatives on the market these days, including almond milk, rice milk, coconut milk, hemp milk, oat milk, soy milk and pea protein milk — each with its pros and cons. If you are considering ditching cow’s milk for something more sustainable, here is a quick guide to the best milk alternatives and how they impact the environment.
Almonds feature a plethora of health benefits, including good fats, flavonoids and protein. Almond milk, on the other hand, does not include the same amount of nutrients. In fact, many of the benefits found in almonds are not present in almond milk, because it only contains about 2 percent of almonds.
While it might not compare to regular almonds, this milk does not have a lot of calories and is usually fortified with additional calcium and vitamins. That said, you have to be careful when purchasing almond milk, because many products are not fortified and provide little nutritional value.
Although almond milk seems like a great milk alternative, its environmental impact is fairly high. The biggest problem with almonds is that they require a lot of water to produce. On average, it takes a little over a gallon of water to grow a single almond. Even worse, many almond growers are located in California, which has suffered extreme droughts over the past few years.
Like almond milk, coconut milk does not feature as many nutritional benefits as you might think. Aside from being low in calories, coconut milk features little on the vitamin and protein front. It also has a watery texture and does not pair well with other foods. Fortunately, companies fortify coconut milk to make it healthier, making it a viable milk alternative.
Another positive aspect of coconut milk is that it has a very low environmental impact. The farms are eco-friendly and use small amounts of water to produce coconuts. Coconut trees can also filter out carbon dioxide, which is great for combating greenhouse gases. The transportation and processing are the only environmental impacts to consider in the production of coconuts.
Rice is farmed all over the globe and requires a lot of water to produce. The plus side is that there are new varieties that make farming rice less damaging to the environment. The downside is that a lot of modern varieties are genetically modified, which many countries have deemed unsafe. There is also the risk of arsenic contamination in rice paddies.
When it comes to taste and texture, rice milk is about as close as you can get to cow’s milk. It is naturally sweet and pairs well with cereal or cookies. It is a little more watery than traditional milk, but its sweet flavor makes it a good milk alternative. Rice milk is also good for people who suffer from lactose or nut allergies, and it can be fortified to include more vitamins and calcium. It is, however, low in protein.
There are a lot of health benefits associated with hemp milk. This milk contains plenty of protein and important fatty acids. These fats are good for improving the cardiovascular system, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and fortifying skin. The one downside to hemp milk is that a lot of the nutrients are stripped away in the production process, although plenty still remain to make this a healthy milk alternative.
As far as the environment is concerned, hemp production is actually quite eco-friendly. This plant is hardy, meaning less pesticides and sprays are needed to combat weeds. Hemp also helps fight global warming by filtering out carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Just about every part of the hemp plant is usable, resulting in less waste than other plants on this list.
Oats have long been used to fight bad cholesterol, and these same nutrients are present in oak milk. The only catch is that you have to consume a handful of servings every day to get the benefits. While oat milk also contains B vitamins, it does not have as much protein and minerals as other milk alternatives. There are companies, however, that fortify oat milk, which adds in extra vitamins.
Like most plant-based milks, it takes a lot of energy to turn oats into milk. Oats, however, contribute less carbon to the atmosphere than other plants and require less water to grow. For example, it takes six times as much water to grow almonds than it does oats. This lessens the environmental hazards in the oat industry, making it a sustainable milk alternative.
The nutritional value of soy milk is close to cow’s milk. It has plenty of macronutrients, carbohydrates and fat. The main difference is that it does not have large concentrations of iodine, B vitamins, calcium or lactose. Soy is a plant product, so sugar is added to make it sweeter (there are unsweetened options on the market). The main downside to soy, however, is its negative environmental impact.
Soy requires massive chunks of land and pesticides to produce. This crop is also genetically modified to better withstand various growing conditions and combat pests. There are large areas of the Amazon rainforest that are being destroyed in order to grow soy. If you think soy is a viable alternative to traditional milk in your diet, consider purchasing organic brands that are produced only in the U.S.
Pea Protein Milk
With the amount of protein per glass matching cow’s milk, pea protein milk is a healthy alternative to dairy. It also boasts enough omega-3s and calcium to rival traditional milk. Unsweetened options contain a fraction of the sugars found in milk, but the chalky, flour-like taste of pea protein milk will leave many choosing a sweetened option. Still, this amount of protein in an alternative milk is hard to come by.
Better yet, pea protein milk is a great option for eco-conscious consumers. Peas can often grow without irrigation and are easily rotated by farmers, naturally fixing nitrogen in soil and reducing the need for artificial fertilizers. Growing peas requires up to six times less water than almonds, and this milk alternative has a much smaller carbon footprint than dairy.