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Milk. Who knew it could get this complicated? Cow milk, goat milk, soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, oat milk. Apparently the next big thing is camel milk.

So many choices? Which one to choose? Does it even matter?

Here’s where I sit on the fence and tell you I drink all of the above. My reasoning always comes back to variety & moderation. But for the sake of playing devil’s advocate I’m going to lay out a few pros and cons for you and let you make your own more informed choice.
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Cows milk – For decades we have been encouraged to drink cows milk because it is full of calcium and protein which is needed for stong teeth and bones. This is probably true if you purchase raw milk from grass fed cows direct from the farmer. Only you can’t drink raw cows milk due to the number of bacterial diseases cows contract. The mass-production of milk requires that it be pasteurised to kill unwanted bacteria, but the process also destroys valuable vitamins and reduces the availability of minerals such as calcium. Anti-biotics are often then added to milk to stop any further bacterial growth. Milk is also homogenised, a purely asthetic function that spreads fat particles evenly through the milk so that we don’t get a layer of cream on top. These days many of us are trying to avoid processed foods and sadly it is easy to forget how processed todays milk is. Its also important to note that there are other good sources of calicum & protein.

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Goats Milk is easier to digest than cows milk and contains slightly less lactose. These two facts combined suggest that people who are only slightly lactose intolerant may be able to tolerate it. Note also that though in Australia it is illegal to sell unpasteurised cows milk (other than as a beauty product), it is possible to buy and drink unpasteurised goats milk because don’t carry the disease that cows do. Sarah B of mynewroots has written a fab article about goats milk which I certainly can’t best so head that way for more info.

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Soy milk – is lactose free and a complete protein making it popular with vegetarians. It also contains a good amount of calcium. There are three cons to soy products in general. One, they contain phytic acid which limits absorption of minerals such as zinc, calcium, magnesium & iron. Two, they contain enzyme inhibitors that inhibit its digestion. And three they contain phytoestrogens which disrupt thyroid function, a condition that now seems a common problem amoung middle age women. The phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors can be broken down with fermentation (ie foods such miso & tempeh) but there isn’t much we can do about the phytoestrogens.

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Almond milk – is certainly the trendy diary-free milk of the moment. Being lactose and dairy free it is suitable for those who are lactose intolerant or vegan. Almonds are a good source of calicum, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, silicon, zinc, B2 and Vitamin E. However, the amount that these vitamins & minerals are  transferred into almond milk is harder to establish. If your going to go the almond milk road I recommend making your own as it tastes so much better. Plus, it’s never made much sense to me to buy a processed long life product that contains additives, added sugars and who knows what else. In the press lately there has also been concern about carrageenan a food additive commonly found in almond milk. Some studies show it causes inflammation of the gastro-intestinal tract.

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Coconut milk – is high in saturated fat in the form of medium chain triglycerides. Depending on who you listen to this is a good or a bad thing. The Dietetics Association of Australia states that saturated fat is linked to high cholesterol and heart disease. Sally Fallon in her book Nourishing Traditions contradicts this arguing they are a good form of energy and their anti-microbial properties enhance the immune system. (I’ve not read up on the literature well enough to advise either way but it is on my research list.) Some of the other concerns about coconut milk include the presence of Bisphenol-A (BPA) in the lining of tin cans and that guar gum, present in some brands, is difficult to digest. Personally I buy an organic coconut milk that only has two ingredients: coconut milk & water, and the can is BPA free. Like everything else, I use it in moderation. It is simple to make your own too, but it won’t be as thick & creamy as the tinned stuff.

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Rice milk – is another dairy free alternative for vegans and is lactose & cholesterol free. There is nothing unhealthy about it, but its not going to give you a huge boost of nutrition if thats what you’re looking for. I mostly use it as a cost-effective non-dairy milk when baking and cooking as it is super easy to make yourself. For me, store bought rice milk is in the same category as store bought almond milk – not worth it.

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Oat milk – yet another dairy free alternative, oat milk is a good source of protein and contains a good dose of vitamins & minerals. It is lactose & cholesterol free and low in fat.  It can be gluten free if the oats used are gluten free. Its cheap and easy to make at home.

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I’ll leave it in your hands as to which milk you use from here. The reality is there is no perfect answer and we all have to figure out what works best for us. Would love to hear your thoughts on what works for you.

If your curious about trying to make your own milks the recipes below are a good start…

Home-made Almond Milk (or other nut milk)
Makes: 750ml

Ingredients

1 Cup (150gms) raw almonds
3 Cups or 750mls filtered water
You will also need a muslin cloth or nut bag.

Process
1. Soak almonds in water overnight. In the morning drain and rinse.
2. Add almonds and filtered water to a blender and blend on high for 1 minute
3. Using a muslin cloth, strain the milk into a jar. The pulp should be left behind in the muslin. Be sure to squeeze as much milk out as possible.
4. Store in the fridge for up to three days. Shake before use as the sediments will settle to the bottom of the jar.
5. Keep the pulp for use in smoothies or porridge, or dehydrate it and use as almond flour.

Variations
1. Add a teaspoon of honey or spices such as cardamon, cinnamon or vanilla for more sweetness and flavour.
2. For an even creamier texture, Jo Whitton suggests adding a tablespoon of coconut oil and heating the milk on a low-medicum heat for 5 minutes. Be sure not to boil.
3. The same process and quantities can be used to make brown rice milk or oat milk (use oat groats or steel cut oats). These milks are cheaper to make but tend to be thinner and less creamy.

Home-made Coconut Milk
Quantitites direct from Jo Whitton’s ‘Quirky Cooking‘; process altered for non-thermomix owners.

Ingredients
300gms dried coconut (desicated, shredded or flaked)
1000gms filtered water
You will also need a muslin cloth or nut bag.

Process
1. Add coconut and filtered water to a blender and blend on high for 1 minute
3. Using a muslin cloth, strain the milk into a jar. The pulp should be left behind in the muslin. Be sure to squeeze as much milk out as possible.
4. Store in the fridge for up to three days. Shake before use as the sediments will settle to the bottom of the jar.
5. Keep the pulp for use in smoothies or porridge, or dehydrate it and use as coconut flour.

Refs: Food & Healing, Nourishing Traditions

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