With the rise of health trends, including Veganism and Ketogenic diets, non-dairy milks have become as common as millennials trying to make a living on Youtube. Where a few years ago seeing soy milk in a family’s refrigerator would have caused an eyebrow or two to raise, now you can find nearly a dozen plant-based milk options fully-stocked at your local grocery store.
According to Healthline, a popular online health website that focuses on peer-reviewed and evidence-based research, there are several non-dairy milks that rise above the rest in terms of healthiness. The top 3 recommended include soy, almond, and coconut milk.
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Plant Based Milk Options And The Environment
Along with an increase in human health-consciousness, it’s undeniable that the environment’s health (or, maybe more rightly, a lack thereof) has been on the general public’s mind lately. Everything from how you get to work to the bag you store your snacks in and everything in between is being called into question, the goal being to minimize every single drop of impact you have on the environment.
An often-forgotten area of contribution to the ever-looming disaster that is our ecosystem is the food we eat. The packaging used, the harvesting methods employed, the distance that must be traveled to get to the consumer … every single step of the food production process takes its toll on the environment. Plant-based milks are no exception.
Ah, the soybean. You’d be hard-pressed to drive five miles through any rural state without passing fields bursting with soybeans. Soy seems to be in everything from oil to protein bars and everything in between. As an especially versatile crop, milk alternatives are no exception.
Soy is more or less the Beyoncé of the agricultural world, meaning it’s in high demand around the globe. Naturally, this means the effects of its growth and processing are amplified. Unfortunately for soymilk lovers, soy isn’t exactly a sustainability shining star. This is particularly true in South America, where soy production is exploding.
One of the largest impacts soy has on its ecosystem is its ability to erode soil. Techniques like conservation tillage can help mitigate this. but the erosion is still happening at such a high rate that the farming process is destroying land faster than it can be restored.
Not only are soybeans eroding soil, but its farming is also taking a major toll on both the purity and amount of available water where the crop is grown. Chemicals used to make the farming process easier can easily pollute nearby bodies of water. In addition, the amount of water required for soybeans’ survival can easily deplete naturally-occurring resources.
While certainly not the worst of options, the verdict on soymilk is it’s also not the best.
We’ve all heard of the life-altering droughts the state of California has been experiencing in the past few years. Less commonly known is that the majority of almonds used for almond milk production are grown in California.
It’s estimated that when the growing process is said and done, it takes over 15 gallons of water to produce just 16 almonds. Unfortunately, this means a large amount of desperately-needed water is taken and used for almond farming, leaving California residents high and quite literally dry.
Not only that, but the rising popularity of almond-based products also means farm land previously used for lower water-consumption crops like beans and melons is being converted over to almonds. That’s not exactly good news for the residents of California.
Another environmentally-unfriendly pitfall of almonds is the pesticide residue they leave behind. The rest of the world is trying to save the honeybees. These guys are definitely a “need to have” as opposed to a “nice to have” when it comes to basic food production. However, almond farming uses a pesticide that is a known toxin to honeybees. Yikes.
Almond milk is a delicious dairy-free option. Unfortunately for the environmentally-conscious, it isn’t one that can easily be enjoyed guilt-free. Many people try and make their own Almond Milk at home. Unfortunately, all American Almonds sold in bulk commercially, are required by law to be pasteurized. This process makes it impossible to make almond milk. Therefore, customers are buying unpasteurized almonds from the number two producer, Spain, to make their homemade almond milk in America.
Finally, one of the good guys! Fortunately for everyone with tastebuds and a conscience, coconut milk is not only a fast-track to feeling like you’re kicking back on a tropical island, it’s also relatively low-impact on this spinning globe we call home.
Part of the reason coconut milk is better for the environment than its almond and soy friends is its limitation of only growing in areas that already have an abundance of water available. Think of what you picture when you think of coconuts. It’s probably around a decent amount of water, right? This is great news for water consumption.
Coconut milk is a good choice due to its growth and production’s low level of emissions. Coconut trees are also not a large contributor to global deforestation.
One concern of using coconut-based products is the effect the popular crop has on those producing it. The world has gone cuckoo for coconuts, meaning farmers have to work hard to keep up with the demand. This can often result in unintended consequences for farmers already close to living in poverty. Every day these farmers focus on producing this single, crucial crop. Hardship is often one harsh bout of rain or soil disease away. One tactic to ensure you’re doing your part and not contributing to this problem is to take the extra few minutes to look for fair trade products.
Environmental Impact of Cows’ Milk
The traditional option for calcium-soaked goodness takes a serious toll on the environment as well. If anything, cow’s milk is possibly the worst choice you could possibly make for Mother Earth. High harmful emissions, high use of land, high water use … you could say traditional dairy is a perfect storm.
No matter which non-dairy milk you choose, you’re making an at-least-slightly-better choice for the environment. Every drop in the bucket counts, so to speak, so something as simple as swapping a bad choice for a slightly less-bad choice can add up to make a difference.
Finally, if you’ve been a die-hard dairy fan your entire life, give plant-based milk a try. Whether your reasonings are based on health in general, allergies to lactose or other components of milk, protecting the environment, taste, or any other factor, plant-based milk is a great choice.