Opinion | Consider plant-based alternatives to dairy milk

By Maggie Knutte, Columnist

Grocery store aisles these days are filled with tons of different brands and types of a single product. It can be tricky to decide which one is the best to get. You might find yourself coming across new alternatives that are created to cater to different diets and dietary restrictions — leaving you puzzled about what to purchase. 

One of these classic household items is the foundation of all dairy products: milk. Cheese, yogurt and ice cream are just a few foods created by cows. Dairy milk has been the most common type of milk for the longest time. 

A 2019 survey done by the International Dairy Foods Association showed that 86% of adults prefer dairy milk over other kinds of milk. In more recent years, plant-based milk such as almond and oat milk has become more popular among Americans. But what separates dairy milk from plant-based milk?

One thing many people will compare when browsing the milk selection at their local grocery store is cost. In the United States, the average retail price of conventional whole milk in 2022 is $4.33 per gallon. Plant-based milk is often more expensive than dairy, as the additives and ingredients hold more value than milk straight from the cow. For example, nuts tend to have small yields — and therefore a low supply. This causes nuts to have higher prices, so products like almond milk tend to be more costly.   

High costs are often associated with higher quality goods. Plant-based milk, usually the more costly option, can offer nutrients that dairy milk cannot. Additionally, since plant-based milk is made from a combination of a plant and water, it is often more hydrating than dairy milk. 

There are also benefits of plant-based milk inherent to the fact that they’re made of plants. This can include fewer calories, more potassium, lower fat, more vitamins and (in some cases) even more calcium than dairy milk. 

Sometimes dairy milk also is not an option. Between 30 and 50 million adults suffer from lactose intolerance in the United States alone — not to mention those who have dairy allergies. Compared to other dairy products, milk unfortunately has the highest lactose content. For these people, plant-based milk is a blessing. Milk is a versatile food, as it is not used just for drinking, but also in many dishes, drinks and many baked goods. 

The new milk alternatives also allow people to exclude milk from their diets by choice. For example, vegans cut all animal-based products out of their diet, so naturally, they don’t drink milk. Veganism is more prevalent than ever now. It can be a healthier alternative, while additionally addressing concerns about the use of pesticides, antibiotics, or the ethical treatment of the animals whose products are consumed. 

Some vegans also aim to decrease their carbon footprint. Cows are the leading agricultural contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, as they release methane regularly through belching. Dairy cows produce even more than beef cattle because they have longer lifespans on average. 

Choosing what type of milk to buy is a confusing process, especially with such a large variety present in every store. Trying out different kinds of milk is an udderly great way to find the milk that you are nuts about.

 

Maggie is a sophomore in LAS.

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