I’m not a fan of dairy. Never was. Long before there were demonstrative vegans steering folks away from drinking cows milk, I had given it up. I was never diagnosed as lactose intolerant and I’m not sure I would even label myself as having a “food sensitivity” towards dairy, but I intuitively knew that consuming diary products provided me with no health benefits and from an energy standpoint they were draining on my entire system. The term “food coma” that is so prevalent in our culture is so appropriate a description for when we consume any food that puts enough of a burden on our digestive system to wear us out! That is precisely the effect that dairy has on me, which is a good enough reason for me to stay clear. For many people, cow’s milk has other adverse health effects including weight gain, inflammation, diarrhea, allergies, eczema and acne. Also, it should be noted that it has yet to be scientifically proven that either the calcium or protein found in cow’s milk are adequately absorbed by humans, so the argument that cows milk has health benefits is controversial, at best.
For a long time I just avoided recipes that would call for milk or crème and it’s not so hard to do. There are so many options out there that include whole foods that are plant based and rich in vitamins, minerals, nutrients, antioxidants and fiber; and I was completely satisfied with the food I made and ate. However, I don’t live in a vacuum. I have a family that I cook for that often has different preferences than I do, plus I do a lot of entertaining and want my guests to enjoy their dining experience here. Additionally, I am aware that my taste preferences have been cultivated over time and aren’t as mainstream as I would like to believe, not to mention the fact that I teach healthy cooking workshops (healthy being the operative word here, and I pride myself on teaching techniques for both nutritious and delicious food. If not for the love of others, I would have continued in a dairy free world that didn’t explore alternative options. I consider it the good news that I’m exposed to such a diverse group, that I’m extraordinarily curious, open minded and always up for a challenge.
So, I started to look into and experiment with alternatives to cows milk. It opened up a wealth of possibilities for recipes I hadn’t tried in a long time, recipes that were yearning to come out as healthier versions of themselves.
The three most common dairy alternatives are coconut, soy and nut milks. Although coconut milk may have many health benefits and possibly would behave in recipes much to my liking, I am allergic to coconut and so it is therefore not a viable option for me. There is much discussion in the media about soy: it’s tendency to be hormonally disruptive because of the estrogen naturally occurring in soy, the dominance of GMO soy in the marketplace and the abundance of soy products that mimic real food—but are far from healthy with a myriad of additives, enough controversy for another post for sure, meanwhile I will take soy off the list of healthy alternatives to cows milk.
I started off buying almond milk from the grocery. It was easy. The cartons stayed good, unopened in my pantry for a long time and I never had to run to the store last minute because I ran out. One day I realized there were many ingredients on the package that weren’t almonds or water. I went to the store in search of a better brand. There were none. Seriously. None. I went to a few different stores and didn’t find the options any better. So, out of a quest for better health, I started making my own. This was actually revolutionary for many reasons, and I soon learned that the benefits of making my own far outweighed the burden of the time it took to make and clean up a batch of nut milk.
First of all, making my own almond milk introduced me to many other varieties of nut milk; cashew and hazelnut milks are a couple of my favorites. Did you know that different nuts give out a different level of creaminess, not to mention different nutritional profiles and distinctive tastes? Not only that, but making your own nut milk puts you in control of how thick or thin you want it to be, depending on how you’re using it, that extra finesse is just what’s called for in many recipes.
Recently, there has been some bad press about almond milk in the news. There have been claims that several brands are actually less than 2% almonds by weight, and therefore quite low in nutrients. A bit more affirmation that making your own almond milk is the way to go. More disturbing are the reports about some of the additives that are in many commercial brands of almond milk, specifically carrageenan (read article here).
Around this time I was getting a lot of questions from clients and friends asking if there was a brand of almond milk I would recommend. I hadn’t looked for a commercial brand of nut milk for many years and I was sure that there must have been advances in technology and surely the public would be demanding better choices, right? Much to my dismay, not true. I went to 5 different grocery and health food stores. I photographed the cartons and bottles in both the refrigerated section and the dry goods aisles so I could go home and study the ingredient lists. I found nothing I could recommend. I then searched the internet on various health food sites. Still nothing to recommend. I could not find one brand is free of additional ingredients that could be harmful to your health. Don’t be swayed just because a package says organic or all natural. You must READ THE INGREDIENT LIST of all packages you buy and decide for yourself if these ingredients are REAL FOOD and products you want to consume or give to your family and friends.
If you find any commercially made nut milk that has listed nuts and filtered water as the sole ingredients, let me know and if you’re ready to start making your own nut milk, use this link for the recipe.