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Should We Be Nuts About Dairy Alternatives?

Jul 2018

Should We Be Nuts About Dairy Alternatives?

For years now, the rise of dairy-free ‘milks’ have grown in popularity – last year, Sainsbury’s doubled the number of dairy alternatives it offered, and global sales have seen an 8% growth rate over the past decade. The popularity of vegan lifestyles and supposedly ‘health conscious’ lifestyles are fuelling the rise – but just how healthy are these artificial dairy-free alternatives?

Women’s Health recently reported that the value of the UK dairy industry was on the up, and had increased by 4.5% since 2016, and looked deeper into the health benefits of dairy products and their non-dairy counterparts – the popular ‘nut milks’ such as almond, hazelnut and coconut. Given that many consumers choose such alternatives for health benefits, nutritional experts – and the entire UK dairy industry – are worried that the public were only seeing part of the story.

Low in calories, at 34 calories per 200ml, and boosted with added fortified vitamins and minerals, one can see why products such as almond milk is attractive to those looking to take control of their daily calorie intake. But there’s a multitude of reasons why this might not be the best idea for those looking to achieve weight loss…

Milk is packed with protein: whether a consumer is looking to lose fat or gain muscle, protein is key – it’s the nutrient the body needs to repair and build muscles, and high protein foods take longer to break down in the body, giving a feeling of fullness for longer. In our previous blog, we explored the other health benefits of milk – calcium, vitamin D, B12 potassium, to name a few.

Although dairy alternatives are low-calorie, skimmed milk isn’t far behind – at only 67 calories per 200ml. The key difference is that milk is full of so many good nutrients naturally, whereas dairy alternatives are highly processed as manufacturers artificially add vitamins. Women’s Health reported that the British Journal of Nutrition found that almond and cashew milks have left consumers with an iodine deficiency – a dangerous deficit which can cause brain damage.

What’s more, dairy alternatives are hiding another little secret – sugar. Over recent years, studies have found that the enemy to public health isn’t fat, but sugar. We need good, natural unsaturated fats – such as those found in milk, oily fish, olive oil and avocados – to help our brains function and keep our bodies healthy. Many experts now believe that the low-fat fad of the 70s has actually increased obesity rates, as consumers reach for products that promised a low fat content, but contained added sugars to make them more palatable.

So, not only are the vitamins and minerals found in dairy alternatives much lower than those found in milk products, those few good nutrients that they contain have had to be artificially added through a fortification process. And alongside, many contain secret sugars – a dangerous move for the public’s health; as consumers may actively avoid high-sugar foods such as sweets, cakes and chocolates, they can be consuming added sugar without even realising.

Many also opt for dairy alternatives because of environmental concerns that dairy farming has on our planet. Some studies cite dairy farming increases the levels of methane in our ecosystem, but alternatives to dairy products are also impacting the planet. From the deforestation to cultivate soy beans, to the environmental cost of importing nuts from around the globe for nut ‘milks’, the dairy alternative market is contributing to the global carbon footprint. Although we must all, no matter which industry, do our best to reduce our impact on the planet – for us at Meadow Foods, our new effluent plant in Chester is helping to efficiently reduce waste water – consumers should be under no illusions that dairy alternatives are an eco-friendly choice.

The choice is yours when you walk down the chilled aisle at the supermarket – just be sure to be in possession of all the facts!