Milk Up Your Minds!

Jahnvi Ranjan

April 15, 2024

Milk is arguably the most common and significant ingredient in our daily diet. Be it in the form of its by-products like cheese, butter, and curd or raw. Since the white revolution in 1970, India is the largest producer and the largest consumer of milk globally. It alone produces 22% of the global milk production. According to an estimated study, India will produce 700,000 metric tons of dairy milk in 2022 which is 3 per cent above the USDA official figure of 680,000 MT. 

To acknowledge and appreciate the importance of milk in our lives the United Nations in 2001, declared 1st June to be World Milk Day. Since then, the Food And Agriculture Sector of the UN comes together every year to commemorate the significance of various kinds of milk production and consumption. World Milk Day draws focus to the milk industry publicising the various activities connected with it that support livelihood. 

Condensing The Milk 

Milk holds a special place in the Indian community far beyond the dietary aspects. People use milk in religious ceremonies as it is believed to have purifying qualities. Clarified butter or ghee, is considered pure and auspicious and hence is included as a child’s first food as a cleanser at the last rites for a person. The Holy Quran also mentions milk as a medium to heal pain and ache. It is revered as the fluid of eternal life, fertility and abundance. 

Until the last decade, milk for most of us Indians primarily denoted the one extracted from livestock, be it cow, buffalo or goat. However, the idea of plant-based milk was not alien to us either. For instance, India has used coconut milk for centuries. The five south-Indian states have been known to consume coconut milk profoundly in their dishes and relish the taste of it. The use of almond milk in the subcontinent goes back to the 1840s as a medicine as well as a healthy beverage. 

Skip to 2022, the popularity of plant-based milk is at an all-time high with an upward tendency. An increasing number of Indians are turning vegan or switching to keto diets being conscious of what they consume and how it affects their health and that of animals around. As the plant-based milk industry expands, the support Indians can provide to peanut, cashew, oat, and coconut farmers grows with it. Having said that, The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) issued a directive that plant-based milk and its by-products cannot be labelled as milk products to avoid confusion for the consumers. This regulation has sparked an enormous debate between vegans and dairy supporters. 

What do you think about the decision of FSSAI? Let us know in the comments below. 

Meanwhile, we’ve listed below the most common and favoured plant-based substitutes to dairy milk with their potential benefits and side effects. Read on and make an informed choice. 

Here are a few plant-based substitutes for ‘milk’

1. Coconut Milk 

Mature coconut flesh is grated to extract coconut milk. It is a high-calorie food and thus benefits in reducing fatigue, building muscles and enhancing endurance. The milk has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal properties which reduce the risk of infection and boosts the immune response. Coconut milk contains fewer calories than cow milk. So, it is suitable for keto diets supporting weight loss.

But remember coconut milk in large quantities can be harmful. Excess coconut milk means an excess of saturated fats that leads to weight gain. It can also lead to gas formation, diarrhoea or other stomach related issues. People at risk of developing cardiovascular disease have to be cautious when having coconut milk as too much of it might disrupt the ratio between LDL and HDL. 

2. Almond Milk 

Ground almonds and water are mixed together to make almond milk. It has a slightly thinner texture than cow’s milk, with a hint of nutty flavour. Almond milk, a great source of magnesium, has remarkable heart benefits. It is vital for cardiac functions, blood glucose, bone health control, heartbeat regulation and mineral transport across the cells. It helps reduce the deposition of fat in the heart’s arteries reducing the risk of cardiac conditions. Almond is a rich source of vitamin E that prevents free radical damage to cells safeguarding them from multiple disorders like cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Being full of vitamin A almond milk helps improve eye health by improving vision and maintaining a healthy cornea. 

Be careful when buying packed almond milk as it may contain an additive called carrageenan that triggers inflammatory bowel illness with symptoms like nausea, diarrhoea, stomach pain, and even blood and mucus in stools and anaemia.  If you have thyroid or inflammatory disorders, consult your doctor before adding almond milk to your dietary routine.

3. Oat Milk 

Blending oat groats with filtered water makes oat milk giving it a mildly sweet flavour and a creamy texture. It is potentially the best alternative to dairy milk for its lactose-free and gluten-free and is also safe for people allergic to nuts and soy. Oat milk has a profuse amount of vitamins B and B12 helping alleviate stress, combat oxidative damage, and promotes healthy hair, nails, and skin. It’s rich in calcium and vitamin D, both of which benefit your bone health. The high dietary fibre content of oat milk improves digestion and nutrient absorption. 

On the flip side, Oat milk is high in calories, fat and carbs.  In addition to nutrients, oat milk also contains thickeners and emulsifiers that can affect digestive health and may disrupt the gut microbiome.

4. Soy Milk 

Grind dry soybeans with water to obtain creamy soy milk. Enriched with the fibre of soy, this milk is a great supplement for weight loss as it controls your appetite. Soy milk is also high in unsaturated fat that curbs the accumulation of fat in the body. The presence of calcium, fatty acids and protein in soy milk is great in tackling joint and muscle-related problems like arthritis. Being rich in polyunsaturated fat, soy milk not only decreases the production of LDL but also causes a significant increase in HDL, the good cholesterol. 

Be careful to not have too much Soy milk as soya possesses a very high level of phytate that limits the absorption of critically essential minerals like zinc, magnesium, and iron by the body. Additionally, soy milk leaves a mucus-like coating in the gastrointestinal tract during the digestive process. This slows down the digestive and respiratory systems in our body and can develop into sinus problems, asthma, cold, itchy throat and irritable bowel syndrome over time. 

Skimming Out The Truth

Much before the vegan vs dairy debate, milk had been in controversy for years. There are a plethora of myths and superstitions surrounding the white beverage. Let’s unmask a few of them this World Milk Day. 

1. Myth: Raw milk is healthier than pasteurised milk 

Fact: Raw milk contains a variety of disease-causing pathogens such as  Brucella, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella. These pathogens can cause diarrhoea, stomach cramps, and nausea to severe life-threatening diseases like Guillain-Barré syndrome, and hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can result in kidney failure, stroke, and even death. Pasteurization effectively kills raw milk pathogens without any significant impact on milk’s nutritional value.

2. Myth: Dairy Milk causes early puberty

Fact: People believe that drinking milk on a daily basis causes early puberty, especially among girls. This is because livestock milk is injected with a growth hormone which is IGF-I with a structure similar to insulin in the human body. However, there are ample studies to disprove any linkage between the two. It also concluded that the consumers cannot absorb the IGF-I as it metabolises in the body of the recipient i.e. animals. One must inject the hormone directly into the body to cause any effect.

3. Myth: Lactose intolerant people should never drink milk

Fact: There are several plant-based alternatives to milk with similar texture and benefits to milk that are perfectly safe for lactose intolerants to relish. 

4. Myth: Drinking milk causes mucus

Litres Of Joys 

Why drink unhealthy, when you have milk? Let’s celebrate World Milk Day by raising our mugs to the goodness of milk. It’s time your fun stories start with “I was drinking milk and …”

About the Author

Writer by occupation, profession and choice. A major in Journalism has provided me with the dexterity to media-te with the masses. I rewrite my writing if it feels like writing. I live, love, and express it in imperfectly perfect sentences.

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