When you go to the grocery store and peruse the plant-based milks, it seems that more and more varieties appear. It’s as if milk can be made out of anything! There’s almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, oat milk, cashew milk, hazelnut milk, walnut milk, pistachio milk, hemp seed milk and many more. All of those dairy alternatives are healthy, right? Well, not entirely.
Before you randomly grab a carton of pea milk or almond milk off the shelf, keep in mind that they can be unhealthy. Much like dairy milks, plant-based milks can also be bad for your health. For example, dairy milks can contain added hormones and antibiotics, while some plant-based milks have emulsifiers, carrageenan, and added sugars.
In theory, plant-based milks should only contain water and the nut, seed, or grain that the milk is made out of. Almonds and water yield almond milk and oats and water yield oat milk. Of course, it’s always possible to add a little sea salt and raw agave or stevia to sweeten when you make it yourself. Some reputable brands (stored in the refrigerated section) produce plant-based milks with minimal ingredients. Because of this, they tend to have a shorter shelf-life, especially after opening. Plant-based milks that don’t require refrigeration tend to contain more preservatives.
Plant-based milks are not always healthy, but they have the potential to be. Avoid plant-based milks that contain the following ingredients.
It’s very common for nut and seed milks to contain sunflower seed oil, safflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, or even canola oil. These do not belong in your plant-based milks. The vegetables, from which manufactures extract the oils, are commonly sprayed with heavy pesticides and GMOs. Corn and soybeans are the worst of the worst. On top of this, manufacturers use toxic solvents, high heat, and other agents that compromise the fatty acid structure of the plants.
The two most popular emulsifiers in plant-based milks are xanthan gum and guar gum. Xanthan gum is a thickening agent made from fermenting yeast with corn or another sugar source. Not only can xanthan gum cause digestive discomfort and weight gain, but it may also increase the risk of colitis and other intestinal disorders. Guar gum, on the other hand, is from a bean plant. It’s very difficult to digest because of the highly processed nature. These are thickening agents that manufactures use to give plant-based milks a similar texture to dairy milks.
Evaporated Cane Juice, Cane Sugar, Or Cane Syrup
As a general rule of thumb, an ingredient list that has any term with the word “cane” in it is not the healthiest food item. Cane is code for sugar, and it does not refer to freshly juiced sugar cane. Cane sugar is devoid of nutrients and is 99% sucrose, which is pure sugar. This is harmful to blood sugar and overall health. Please avoid any plant-based milk that contains evaporated cane juice, cane sugar, of cane syrup on the ingredient list. It’s better to purchase a healthy, unsweetened variety and add your own healthy sweetener. Raw agave nectar, stevia, grade A maple syrup, or raw coconut nectar are healthier sweeteners.
Unfortunately, there is nothing natural about natural flavors. It’s common to see “natural flavors” on many ingredients lists, but what are they? Natural flavors can indicate artificial sweeteners or forms of monosodium glutamate (MSG). If you want to know exactly what’s in your plant-based milk, avoid any variety that has “natural flavors” on the ingredient list.
Natural vitamin D that the human body produces after sun exposure is vitamin D3. In their whole forms, vitamins are very beneficial for the body, even necessary for optimal health. They are some of the primary factors for maximum nutrient absorption. The same cannot be said for synthetic vitamins like vitamin D2. This synthetic vitamin is an isolated form of natural vitamin D, and the body cannot properly absorb it. There are no real benefits to the body; in fact, it may even do more harm than good. Many health experts believe that vitamin D2 desensitizes D3 receptors, which can increase the risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Several studies confirmed carrageenan’s link to diabetes, chronic inflammation, and certain cancers. It comes from red seaweed and manufacturers add it to many processed foods and beverages as a thickening agent. Researchers found that carrageenan is very harmful to the digestive tract. In fact, the common use for it is to induce colitis in lab animals. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), carrageenan is a potential human carcinogen.
Just because you purchase plant-based dairy alternatives, don’t think that you are automatically healthier. Be on the lookout for the ingredients in this article and avoid them at all costs.