By Maneka Gandhi*
Every time I write an article on how bad milk is for the human, I get emails asking me for alternatives. What alternative do you need for poison? Something else.
However, because the habit of giving something silky white and liquid to children as a concept of wholesome purity (As little as 150 years ago, doctors would spit on wounds because saliva was believed to have healing properties and parents tied owl feet on their children to ward off illness) is a tenacious myth that has survived thousands of years, I will have to give you something that looks the same and is much better for you.
The milk myth is based on the belief that this protein and calcium-rich drink is essential to support good health and bone health at any age. However, not only do we barely absorb the calcium in cow’s milk (especially if pasteurized), but to make matters worse, it actually increases calcium loss from the bones. Like all animal protein, milk acidifies the body pH which triggers a reaction. Calcium is an acid neutralizer and the biggest storage of calcium in the body is in the bones. So the calcium that our bones need to stay strong is pulled out of the bones to neutralize the acidifying effect of milk and it leaves the body via the urine. The result is an actual calcium deficit. Statistics show that countries with the lowest consumption of dairy products also have the lowest fracture incidence in their population. Amy Lanou Ph.D., nutrition director for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C., states: “The countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis are the ones where people drink the most milk. The connection between dairy consumption and bone health is almost non-existent.”
Frank Oski, M.D., author of “Don’t Drink Your Milk!” is the Director of the Department of Paediatrics of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Physician-in-Chief of the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. In the first chapter of his book, Dr. Oski states, “The fact is: the drinking of cow milk has been linked to iron-deficiency anemia in infants and children; it has been named as the cause of cramps and diarrhea in much of the world’s population, and the cause of multiple forms of allergy as well; and the possibility has been raised that it may play a central role in the origins of atherosclerosis and heart attacks. The milk of each species appears to have been specifically designed to protect the young of that species. Cross-feeding does not work. Heating, sterilization, or modification of the milk in any way destroys the protection.”
You don’t need milk, but you do need calcium. Children 4-8 years old need 800 mg calcium per day. Children 9-18 years old need 1,300 mg calcium per day. Adults 18-50 years old need 1,000 mg calcium per day. Adults over the age of 50 need 1,200 mg calcium per day.
One alternative is nut milks. We’re all familiar with coconut milk, and many still make it themselves by grating, soaking and squeezing coconuts and extracting the creamy thick milk. Similarly any nut or grain can be used to produce ‘milk’, meaning a whitish liquid that consists of the fats and starches that form a fluid resembling milk. But making nut milks requires effort.
Soy milk is probably the most popular milk alternative. It is made from the bean extract of soybeans and comes in sweetened, unsweetened and flavoured varieties such as chocolate and vanilla. It has 8 to 10 grams of protein per serving and is often fortified with calcium, vitamins A and D and riboflavin. Soy has been shown to be beneficial in preventing heart disease and at least 10mg per day can decrease breast cancer recurrence by 25%. It may be beneficial for menopausal women, decreasing common symptoms such as hot flashes. It offers the most potassium – a mineral that plays a significant role in the regulation of blood pressure. Soy milk can be used in anything from cereal and coffee to smoothies and savoury dishes. It’s also safe for the lactose intolerant and anyone with a milk allergy.
It can be used with coffee, cereal, smoothies, and oatmeal. Soak almonds for 8 hours, rinse and blend with water, using a 1:3 cup ratio of nuts to water. You can add flavouring / sweetness by adding vanilla and one or two pitted dates. Pour the mixture into a muslin cloth to separate the liquid from the pulp. The pulp can be stored and used as a base for desserts. It has a high amount of vitamin E, magnesium, which helps with the function of the parathyroid glands, helping improve the health of your bones. It’s also loaded with manganese, selenium and Vitamin E. Almond milk is also a good source of unsaturated fat, protein, flavonoids and potassium and has less sugar than soya milk. However, it is expensive.
Rice milk is made from boiled rice, brown rice syrup and brown rice starch. It is high in carbohydrate and lower in protein. It is the most hypoallergenic of all the milk substitutes and extremely nutritious. It’s also the least fattening of all the milk alternatives with only one gram of unsaturated fat per cup which comes from rice bran oil, which can help lower your blood cholesterol. It has Niacin and vitamin B6, and the high magnesium content helps to control your blood pressure. Iron and copper increases your red blood cell production, giving you better oxygenated blood and more vitality. However, since rice is highly starchy, so is rice milk. One cup of rice milk contains 33 grams of sugary carbohydrates, three to four times the amount in soya milk.
Coconut milk is relatively high in fat with about 5 grams of saturated fat per serving. One serving (one cup) of original coconut milk contains 80 calories, 1 gm of protein and 100 mg of calcium. It is rich in lauric acid which has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, a heart-healthy saturated fat that improves HDL (good) cholesterol.
Hemp milk is made from hulled hemp seeds, water and sweeteners. It contains a good amount of protein and fatty acids but falls short in calcium. It is cholesterol and lactose free, low in saturated fats and rich in healthy omega fatty acids. It’s also an excellent source of protein and tastes creamier than soya or rice milk.
Like many plant milks, oat milk is cholesterol and lactose free, and also contains high levels of antioxidant vitamin E. It also contains folic acid, which is essential for most bodily functions and is needed to synthesise and repair DNA, produce healthy red blood cells and prevent anaemia. It is a good source of phytochemicals that help fight diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke. However it is high in sugar and has a lower calcium and protein content.
Cashew Nut Milk:
A few cashews supply almost 38 percent of the recommended daily intake of copper, which is involved in developing bone and connective tissue, producing melanin, and iron absorption. Cashews are a great source of magnesium, which is important in keeping our bones strong and healthy, and has a lower fat content.
Other milk alternatives include quinoa milk, potato milk, 7-Grain milk (from oats, rice, wheat, barley, triticale, spelt and millet) and sunflower milk. Don’t sweeten them in an effort to make them taste like milk. If you are buying, look for unsweetened varieties.
Pick the milk alternative that suits your needs and your taste buds.
However, I drink none of these things: perhaps coconut milk in a dessert sometimes. But I am certainly not calcium deficient. I get my calcium from the same source the cow gets it from: green vegetables. So does my son. If you really want to live well, ignore all the choices above and drink a glass of vegetable juice. Eat broccoli, spinach, soybeans, kidney beans, turnips, etc. Even fruits have calcium. Olives have 96 mg per 100 gms., oranges 42, coconuts 20, grapes 18, pineapples and apricots 16, plums 14, mangoes 12, watermelon 11 and bananas 9 mg per 100 gms.
If you absolutely have to have milk based curd, try goat milk. It has 15 percent more calcium, and more vitamin A and D, potassium, copper and manganese than cow’s milk. It is also a good source of phosphorous and riboflavin (vitamin B2).
*About the author: Maneka Sanjay Gandhi is a Member of Parliament and leader of animal welfare movement in India. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org