House arrest and social isolation has got me thinking a lot about my diet. Staying at home and cutting back on dine-outs means I now have a bit of time on my hands to be more mindful with the things that I put in my system.
Recently, I’ve been perusing on my consumption of dairy products. Almost each of my three daily meals involve, in one way or another, a form of dairy product. It isn’t hard for me to track these things, owing to the fact that I consume pretty much the same things each day.
My breakfast menu is composed of a warm bowl of oatmeal with milk and a hot mug of hot chocolate (with… you guessed it: milk). I try to variegate my lunch, but I keep the composition pretty consistent, so it looks something like pasta + protein. I change up on the pasta variation every now and then and although chicken is my go-to protein source, I like to mix in some tuna occasionally to keep things interesting. Where’s the dairy, you ask? In the sautéing medium. I use butter because I have noticed that it elevates the flavours to levels that I can tolerate having every single day. Olive oil just doesn’t have the necessary kick that my tongue demands.
My dinner looks a lot like my lunch, only I substitute the pasta for some sort of veggie. Green peas, kale, spinach, whatever is in stock in the market that week is on my dining table for the entirety of that particular week. I like to add in another dose of hot chocolate just to make my late night study sessions a bit more bearable.
Milk runs riot in my day-to-day. Whenever I’m feeling particularly hungry or snacky, I walk to the fridge and take a glass of milk, or chug down a couple gulps if I was feeling particularly lazy and barbaric. My grocery statements claims that I purchase at least 3 litres of milk per week, which amounts to about 420 mL of milk a day, or about three-quarters of a British pint.
According to this article, the average American drinks 18 gallons of milk a year. If you pick up your calculator and see what that equates to in daily metrics, it boils down to about 186 mL a day. I consume more than twice of that.
I hope I no longer need to explain why this is bad behaviour and elaborate on the reasons I need to cut down or completely remove dairy from my diet. Word about the health risks of cow milk is all over the internet, and I’m willing to bet my milk-invaded refrigerator that you’ve at least once stumbled upon an article about cow milk and lactose and why it’s unideal for the human digestive system.
Not to mention the risks this agricultural sector poses on the welfare of animals. It’s not that I’ve suddenly transformed into an animal welfare organisation frontman, it’s that I secretly know these practices are far from just for our four-legged friends.
And so I did some information excavation on alternatives to milk, and I found soy to be the most sensible of options. With protein content that is comparable to that of cow’s milk, a good cut on fats and calorie-count, plus prices that do not break the bank (compared to almond and cashew milk, at least in the country I live in) — soy seems like a worthy replacement for bovine milk.
But these numbers portray only a glimpse of milk and its bits and bobs — it barely scratches the surface. Yes, the macronutrient table does provide a window for us to filter out those that simply do not match our internal desires, such as rice milk for example, if your focus is on the protein.
The micronutrient content is equally important when we talk about nutrition and specific food items, milk included. These are what I referred to as the bits and bobs of milk.
Cow’s milk is notoriously rich in calcium, and is often fortified with vitamin A and D. Fat-free versions of cow milk also exist in supermarket shelves as ‘skimmed milk’, but the fact that they are fat-free naturally decreases the amount of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E and K.
Lactose-free cow’s milk apparently also exists in today’s markets, and does address the lactose and human digestive system mismatch, but it does not attend to the animal-rearing quandaries. Also, such a luxury has yet to show itself in my country, so that option is out of the question at least for me.
I have to admit, almond milk is one of the better-tasting milks out there, even in the unsweetened form, but science shows that their nutrient content is quite underwhelming. They are a poor source of protein (although almonds themselves are excellent protein-filled snacks) and lack in natural calcium. Some brands therefore fortify their almond milks with calcium and vitamins.
The best part about rice milk is the fact that it’s the most hypoallergenic of all milk subtypes, meaning it is the least likely to trigger an allergic reaction. However, their low protein content and high carbohydrate content can be immediately off-putting for some. Some studies have also shown that rice may have inappreciably high levels of inorganic Arsenic, and the FDA has addressed that by advising limitation of rice consumption.
Coconut milk tells a similar story, with their low protein and poor natural micronutrient content, plus containing trace amounts of carrageenan, which are polysaccharides known to induce digestive problems in some people.
And this left me with soy, which contains a respectable amount of protein, while leaving out the less-than-healthy saturated fats, calories, and lactose from cow’s milk. Soy is also naturally rich in potassium and magnesium, which can help regulate fluid balance and improve muscle contractions in the body.
Soy also contain isoflavones, which are a form of plant-based oestrogen. Many studies have postulated the anti-cancer effects of isoflavones, as well as the ability to prevent maladies that go with the natural decline of oestrogen after menopause. Additionally, their anti-inflammatory properties are thought to be able to fend off chronic disease progression as well as reduce risk for cardiovascular diseases, owing to their antioxidant content. However, research in this field is still a considerably new endeavour and some results have been shown to be inconsistent and even contradictory.
Soy milk seems to be the best of both worlds solution in this creamy conundrum. They retain the benefits you’d get from the protein in cow’s milk, but unlike the latter, they do not contain unhealthy fats, are completely lactose-free, and is 100% plant-based, meaning no form of animal cruelty was possibly set underway within the soy milk production chain, besides perhaps the bees who were sad to see their favourite soy flower go.
All in all, I’m quite convinced to make my switch to soy milk, after 21 years of cow’s milk consumption. I’ve decidedly attempted the transition for a month now, substituting the milk in my breakfast and coffee to soy, and cutting back on hot chocolate for the moment. I have also resolved to using olive oil for my sautéing ventures, and though my tongue seems to be holding up well with the adaptation, I still find myself indulging in buttered toast once in a while.
I’ve noticed that I retain my weight a little better these days (cow’s milk and my body mass do not go hand-in-hand), and I’ve been feeling just a tad bit more responsible for the meals I’m consuming. It does seem quite pretentious, but I know I’ll eventually transition fully to a 100% plant-based diet one day. I just haven’t found a cost-effective and sustainable alternative for my chicken and tuna yet.
And while it will take time to know the long-term benefits of my switch to soy, the science sounds hopeful in this undertaking. More research is needed to determine its exact benefits, but overall soy milk and soy products appear to be beneficial.