The use of milk and dairy produce are recommended by The Food Standards Agency as a good source of calcium, vitamins and protein.10 The UK is the 9th largest producer in the world producing over 13 million tonnes in 2009 and accounting for 2.3% of world cow’s milk production.4 53% of the annual production of 13.5 billion litres of raw milk is used to produce milk and the next largest use is for cheese production at 27%.3 Average liquid milk consumption for 2009 stands at 1,568mls per person per week.4
Although the government insists that milk is beneficial to our health, there is considerable debate about whether the consumption of cow’s milk really is very good for us. The growing trend towards the consumption of dairy alternatives would suggest otherwise.
Doubts have arisen not just within the vegan and vegetarian community but also amongst those who have or have had oestrogen receptive cancers and those who suffer from lactose intolerance and allergies. Approximately 25% of the U.K’s population is deficient in the enzyme needed to digest milk properly, with allergies to cow’s milk affecting 75 in 1000 babies.12
Quite apart from the belief that we are not designed to consume another species’ milk after infancy, there is also the added concern that dairy consumption may be linked to various chronic health conditions. Some studies suggest that unlimited dairy consumption may be linked to certain forms of cancer, heart disease, asthma, diabetes and obesity due to the high content of fat and cholesterol in milk and cheese.10
Milk is also the main dietary source of D-galactose which has been found in studies to be detrimental to health. Research shows that D-galactose induces oxidative stress, chronic inflammation and reduces our immune response. Theoretically these processes place us at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer.15
Furthermore it is thought that dairy products may also be contaminated with pesticides, dioxins, drug residues and hormones used to boost milk production.10 For those continuing to eat dairy it would be worthwhile investing in organic products to avoid the pesticides and chemicals that are concentrated in the fat found in non-organic dairy.
Not surprisingly, supermarkets and health food shops have recognised the need for alternatives to conventional dairy products and stock several different types of milk. These offer differing nutritional advantages.
Although thought of as an alternative to cow’s milk, on a global level more people drink goat’s milk than cow’s milk.10 Goat’s milk has many of the same nutritional benefits as cow’s milk including good levels of calcium, biotin, vitamin D, Pantothenic Acid and Riboflavin – see table 1. 100g of goat’s milk provides 69 calories, 3.6gms of protein, 11 grams of cholesterol, 4.1 grams of fat and 4.5 grams of carbohydrate.4 In addition to this it has high levels of short and medium chain fatty acids, which have many recognised medicinal values.9
The greatest benefit however, is that those who cannot drink cow’s milk are often able to tolerate goats milk. Unfortunately there are nutrients lacking in goats milk, which make it unsuitable for growing infants.14 The higher renal solute load can place stress on an infant’s kidneys in the first month of life, causing a dangerous condition called metabolic acidosis.14
Reassuringly for those with health concerns relating to oestrogen receptive cancers, one of the leading goat farms in the UK claim they do not use hormones to increase yield and antibiotics are not used routinely either.12 The goats are fed a nutritionally balanced diet based on organic red clover leys. This is supplemented with a nutritious feed mix consisting of wheat bran, sugar beet pulp and brewers grains. Furthermore the goats have never been fed any kind of meat and bone meal or any other animal protein.12
Goat’s milk may also be considered a safer option for those concerned with the levels of pesticides and growth hormones found in cow’s milk. Results taken from a study carried out in Greece in 2010 reinforced the idea that goat’s milk may be a healthier alternative to cow’s milk.2 200 milk samples were collected from sheep and goats across ten farms to analyze for pesticide residues.
Samples taken for the study were selected from farms, which represented common conventional production and feeding systems. No pesticide residues were detected in these samples, concluding that sheep and goats milk presented no human health risks in relation to the contaminants analyzed.2
TABLE 1. Average vitamin content of goat, cow and human milk per 100g.
|Vitamin A(1)(2)||1560.0 (1380)||2074.0 (1850)||1898.0 (2410)|
|Thiamine||0.44 ( .38)||0.40 ( .48)||0.16 (0.14)|
|Riboflavin||1.75 (1.61)||1.84 (1.38)||0.36 ( .36)|
|Nicotinic Acid||0.94 ( .84)||1.87 (2.7)||1.47 (1.77)|
|Vitamin B 6||0.64 ( .42)||0.07 ( .46)||0.10 ( .11)|
|Pantotheine||3.46 (3.13)||3.44 (3.1)||1.84 (2.23)|
|Folic Acid||0.0028 ( 0.005)||0.0024 (0.001)||0.0020 (0.005)|
|Vitamin B 12||0.0043 (.0036)||0.0006 (.00065)||0.0003 (,.00045)|
|Ascorbic Acid||21.1 (14.7)||15.0(13,0)||43.0 (50)|
(1) Vitamin A expressed in International Units/liter; all others as mg/liter. (2) Numbers in ( ) are from the USDA Handbook 8-1 (1976).
Soya milk is made from grinding dry soybeans with water. The protein content is approximately the same as cow’s milk. It also contains 2% fat and 2.9% carbohydrate. However it contains little digestible calcium as it is bound to the beans pulp, which is insoluble in humans.7 This is overcome during the manufacturing process by the addition of calcium carbonate to enrich the final product. This product can then be made into tofu in the same way that dairy milk can be made into cheese.
Soya milk may not always be suitable for vegetarians or vegans as the fortified vitamin D may be sourced from lanolin.3 Because Soya doesn’t contain galactose, a product of lactose breakdown, it can safely replace breast milk in children with galactosemia.8 Soymilk contains no lactose, which makes it a good alternative for lactose-intolerant people.
There has been much controversy surrounding the phytoeostrogenic properties of soya and its associated breast cancer risks. However recent studies suggest that phytoestrogens from soya pose no safety issues with regards to breast cancer. This view is endorsed by the European Food Safety Authority committee who offer further advice that in the case of menopause soya can offer valuable benefits.10
However, there are still grave concerns about genetically modified soy plants. The last 10 years have seen a flow of studies published in prestigious scientific journals that question the impact and safety of engineered food. Before choosing soya milk individuals should make their decision based on food safety and scientific evidence. 16 Those with concerns can find non-GMO soy milk, in some health food shops.
Rice milk is commonly made from brown rice cooked with water, blended and strained. It contains more carbohydrates than cow’s milk, and has less protein and calcium. It has no cholesterol and is lactose free making it suitable for those who are lactose intolerant. Many commercial brands are fortified with vitamins A and D, some B vitamins, calcium and iron.
Long term use of arsenic contaminated groundwater to irrigate rice crops in Bangladesh has resulted in elevated soil arsenic levels. This has raised concerns that rice grown on these soils has an accumulation of arsenic that may be toxic.1 In May 2009 the Food Standards Agency issued a warning against feeding rice milk to infants and toddlers from 1 to 4.5 yrs old based on the publication of two studies examining the arsenic levels in both milk drinks and on the cooking methods of rice.
Although the arsenic content was not found to be over the legal limit a warning was issued based on the likelihood that children in this age group will drink a relatively large amount of rice milk. Therefore their intake of arsenic would be greater than that of older children and adults relative to their bodyweight.7
Other Available Alternatives
Other milks often used to replace dairy products include: almond milk, oat milk, hemp milk, hazelnut milk, quinoa milk, sunflower milk, cashew milk and coconut milk. Many non-dairy types of milk available from shops have added sugars to enhance the flavour and some are fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
- Coconut Milk –The rich taste of coconut milk is due to its high oil content. Virgin coconut oil is composed mainly of medium-chain triglycerides, which may not carry the same risks as other saturated fats.
- Almond milk is light with a subtle nutty flavour and doesn’t contain lactose which is suitable for those that are lactose intolerant. It is also really easy to make yourself.
- Hemp milk is an excellent source of protein as well as omega 3 essential fatty acids but is relatively low in calcium.
- Hazelnut milk is low in calories but rich in omega 3s, as well as being a good source of B vitamins.
- Oat milk has a mild sweet flavour and has higher levels of protein than almond or hazelnut milk
- Sunflower milk is fairly rich and has a taste somewhere between soy and almond milk. It provides good levels of protein, essential fats and vitamin E.
- Quinoa milk is gluten free, high in protein and contains all 9 essential amino acids.
- Cashew milk is rich and creamy, a good source of protein, vitamin K, iron and magnesium.
Abedin J, Cotter-Howells J and Meharg A (2011). Arsenic uptake and accumulation in rice (Oryza sativa L.) irrigated with contaminated water. Plant and Soil. 240, 2, 311-319.
Anagnostopoulos C, Haroutounian S, Liapis K et al (2010). Pesticide residues in milks and feedstuff of farm animals drawn from Greece. Chemosphere. 80 5 504-12.
Best Practice (2008). Is a vegetarian diet healthy for a child? http://www.bpac.org.nz/magazine/2008/december/vegetarian.asp. [Accessed 18.10.11].
Bruhn (2011). The Dairy Research and Information Centre. Dairy goat milk composition. http://drinc.ucdavis.edu/goat1.htm. [Accessed 2.11.11].
DairyCoDatum (2011). World Milk Production. http://dairyco.net/datum/milk-supply/milk-production/world-milk-production.aspx. [Accessed 18.10.11].
DEFRA (Department for Environment and Rural affairs) (2011). Milk and milk products, dairy industry. www.defra.gov.uk/food-farm/food/food-industry/milk-industry. [Accessed 18.10.11].
FSA (Food Standards Agency) (2009). Arsenic in Rice Research Published. http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2009/may/arsenicinriceresearch. [Accessed 18.10.11].
Goppert F. (1917).Galaktosurie nach Milchzuckergabe bei angeborenem, familiaerem chronischem Leberleiden. Klin Wschr. 54:473-477.
Haenlein G, Sherman D. (2004). Goat Milk in Human Nutrition. Small Ruminant Research. 51 2 155-163.
Messina. (2010). A brief historical overview of the past 2 decades of soy and isoflavone research. Journal Nutrition. 140 71350S-1354S.
Murray M, Pizzorno J and Pizzorno L (2005). The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. Bath: Bath Press.
St.Helen’s Farm (2011). FAQ. http://www.sthelensfarm.co.uk/more_info.asp?current_id=64#6 [Accessed 18.10.11].
The Vegan Society. Non dairy milks. http://www.vegansociety.com/UserHub.aspx?id=318&terms=dairy+alternatives. [Accessed 18.10.11].
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Infant Formula Feeding. http://www.nal.usda.gov/wicworks/Topics/FG/Chapter4_InfantFormulaFeeding.pdf. [Accessed 19.10.11].
Basu S et al. Milk intake and risk of mortality and fractures in women and men: cohort studies. BMJ 2014;349:g6015
The Food Revolution Network. Former Pro-GMO Scientist Speaks Out On the Real Dangers of Genetically Engineered Food. https://foodrevolution.org/blog/former-pro-gmo-scientist/. [Accessed 16.5.17]