Plant Milk or Dairy: What’s Better for You and Planet Earth?

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When it comes to which milk is better for the planet – dairy or plant-based – environmentalists would say there’s no controversy: Plant-based milk wins. every time.

Advances in top dairy producing countries such as China, Italy, New Zealand and the United States have dramatically increased modern milk production per cow – an American cow now gives four times more milk than a cow in India – while cattle reduces the environmental impact of , There’s even a cow in Wisconsin named Selz-Prale Aftershock 3918, which World record for milk production by Holstein: 78,170 pounds of milk in 365 days.

Feeding and watering dairy cows places enormous demands on natural resources around the world, according to a widely cited 2018 meta-analysis of studies on the issue.

The dairy industry uses about 10 times more land and two to 20 times more water than soy, oat, almond or rice milk production, according to an analysis of a 2018 study by the nonprofit Global Change Data Lab and the University of Oxford. United Kingdom.

The analysis found that dairy also produces nearly three times as many greenhouse gas emissions. The UN Environment Program said that burps and faeces from ruminant animals such as cattle, sheep and goats generate methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, warming the planet over a period of 20 years. Is.

Nevertheless, people drink milk for nutritional reasons, and it is an important source of protein and nutrients in some parts of the world. This may answer which milk is best for the planet And You and your kids are more complicated. Here’s what the science says.

The white mustache ad for cow’s milk over a smiling face drives home an oft-repeated message: Dairy milk is good for you. Contains calcium, protein and other nutrients that help people become taller and stronger.

“Milk is so amazing nutritionally, because a young mammal can live and grow for many months on nothing but milk,” Dr. Walter Willett, a leading nutrition researcher, told CNN. “But that doesn’t mean it’s an optimal food for the rest of our lives.”

Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and his Harvard colleague, endocrinologist and pediatrician Dr. David Ludwig, on the topic of milk and human health in a 2020 review Worked. For New England Journal of Medicine.

strong bones: The pair took a hard look at the common belief that drinking milk leads to healthier bones that will be less likely to fracture. This is a primary justification, Willett said, for the current U.S. nutritional recommendations of 3 cups of fat-free milk or other dairy per day for children and adults ages 9 to 18 and 2½ per day for children ages 2 to 8. cup.

Interestingly, a review of meta-analyses of studies that examined drinking 4 cups of milk a day found no definite benefit for fracture prevention, even in children, Willett said. In a 2014 study he and colleagues found a 9% higher risk of later hip fracture for each additional glass of milk per day consumed by teenage boys, but not girls. And compared country to country, Willett and Ludwig discovered higher rates of hip fractures in countries that consumed the highest Milk and calcium content.

height: Milk helps kids grow tall — very tall, Willett said. what’s wrong with that? Tall people tend to have more fractures, he said, because “mechanically, if you have a long stick, it’s easier to break than a short stick.”

Studies have also shown an association between height and an increased risk of several cancers and lung issues. Tall people are less likely to have heart disease, but have a higher risk of atrial fibrillation, or an irregular heartbeat. and varicose veins.

lactose intolerance: Willett said that dairy can only be introduced to a human baby after 12 months because of its high concentration of protein and minerals. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, milk products given before age 1 can cause intestinal bleeding and kidney damage in a young child.

But unless your ancestors are from a part of the world where consuming dairy was genetically beneficial, your body will stop making the enzyme lactase during childhood. Without that enzyme, your body struggles to break down the sugars in milk.

Studies estimate that 68% of the world’s population may be sensitive to milk, which can lead to abdominal bloating, cramping and pain.

“Milk and dairy were primarily consumed in northern European countries,” Willett said. “Most of the world’s population does not consume milk after infancy.”

Hormones and antibiotics: Dairy cows are almost always pregnant, Willett said, thus naturally increasing the levels of progestin, estrogen and other hormones in the milk. To increase milk production, he said, cows today are still bred to produce high levels of insulin-like growth factor 1, or IGF-1.

An excess of IGF-1 in humans has been linked to cancer, insulin resistance and may play a role in age-related decline. Antibiotics may also be given to the animals to keep the infection at bay. Consumer concern is growing about the effects of hormones and antibiotic resistance.

Weight Loss: Low or non-fat milk is clearly a healthier beverage option than sugary or diet sodas, teas and other processed drinks on the market. But studies on dairy products have shown that only yogurt is associated with less weight gain, Willett said.

They said the available evidence also finds no clear benefit in drinking low-fat rather than whole milk for weight control for adults or children. A 2020 meta-analysis review found that full-fat milk may contribute to reducing childhood obesity.

Decision? “We need to look at everything we do from an environmental lens,” Willett said. “The answer isn’t just zero dairy for everyone, but three servings a day isn’t necessarily a disaster for health and the environment.”

Willett points to the goal of 250 grams, or 1 cup, of dairy a day set by the EAT-Lancet Commission, which is trying to create a healthy and sustainable universal diet.

“That one serving a day is probably better as unsweetened yogurt or maybe cottage cheese, and then you can add some plant-based milk substitutes if you want,” Willett said. “I think from a health perspective and an environmental perspective, it’s a reasonable starting point.”

The market for plant-based milk is exploding.

“Almost every nut, as well as legumes and grains, are becoming plant-based milk alternatives. The most recent alternative I’ve found is banana milk!” said nutritionist Christopher Gardner, research professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center in California, who is writing a book chapter on the topic of milk.

So far, Gardner has found milks based on legumes (soy, pea, peanut, lupine and cowpea), nuts (almond, coconut, hazelnut, pistachio, walnut, macadamia and cashew), seeds (sesame, flax, hemp and sunflower) . cereal (oats, rice, corn, spelt, quinoa, teff and amaranth) and a potato milkshake.

Impact on Environment: Science hasn’t yet looked at the environmental impact of each new entry in the alt-milk market, but you can measure rice milk against soy, almond and oat.

the winner? According to Global Change Data Lab analysis, it depends. Rice has the lowest impact on land use, almonds have the lowest impact on greenhouse emissions, and soy has the lowest impact on freshwater use and eutrophication, which is the contamination of a body of water with nutrients that Causes excessive growth of plants and algae. Oat milk falls somewhere in the middle.

Nutritionally, each all-milk category has pros and cons compared to dairy, Gardner said, adding that he hasn’t been able to review all the brands on the market to “really be able to cover.” Too much for.”

Calcium: Dairy is the winner here, Gardner said, but plant milk manufacturers have gotten around that problem by adding calcium to bring their milk up to at least 300 milligrams, which is the calcium level in dairy.

“The exceptions were coconut milk and rice milk, for which some brands had calcium levels of 130 milligrams a serving or less,” she added.

Protein: Soy and milk made from peas have about as much protein as dairy — about 8 grams of protein in each 8-ounce glass, Gardner said. Other legume-based milks are also good options.

However, coconut and rice milk have lower levels of protein, with almond milk containing less than a gram of protein, and oat milk between 1 and 3 grams per serving, he said.

Fat, sodium and cholesterol: Compared to the dietary cholesterol in whole dairy, most plant milks are good choices, Gardner said — plant foods never contain dietary cholesterol. Sodium levels are relatively equal between plant milk and dairy, at about 100 milligrams of sodium. They are low in saturated fat, with the exception of coconut milk, a tropical plant that typically contains high levels, he said.

“There’s no need to fear the fat content of most plant-based milks — the small amounts of unsaturated fat found in plant-based milks are considered healthy,” Gardner said.

Vitamins A, D and B12: Gardner said that the only reason that dairy is a good source of vitamins A and D is that it is fortified with those vitamins. Plant Milk has done just that.

Vitamin B12 occurs naturally in very small amounts in dairy, as cows get the vitamin from bacteria that feed on grass. Some plant milks are fortified with B12, Gardner said, but not all. To tell, he asks to see the label of the technical name, cobalamin.

Additive Sweeteners: Dairy has its own built-in sweetener, lactose, the sugar that many people find upset their stomachs.

“For dairy milk, lactose is the milk’s natural sugar and, therefore, is included as part of the total sugar content, but is not considered an added sugar,” Gardner said.

Plant milks have no such advantage and that’s where the nutrition may stop, Gardner said. In general, the original versions of almond, soy, and coconut milks have cane sugar added to bring them up to the sweetness level of the dairy. The vanilla options have even more added sugar than the chocolate ones.

However, many alt-milk brands offer an unsweetened version. “With no cane sugar or other sugar added, the total carbohydrate is low, the total sugar is low, and the added sugars are zero,” Gardner said.

“Try the unsweetened versions. They usually taste just as good as the original version, but with fewer calories, fewer carbs, less sugar, and less sugar,” he said.


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