Finding the healthiest milk alternative for you and your family can get pretty confusing with different doctors and experts telling us conflicting information on which milk is healthiest to consume. You may have grown up with the well known “Got Milk” ads from the 90s that successfully convinced a generation of Americans to believe that if you did not consume cow milk, you would have “weak funny bones” and that it was essential to your diet. We were manipulated into thinking standard whole milk from your local grocery store has all the protein and vitamins (like calcium) you need to grow and nourish your body. Although this is not always the case, (for example you can get more than your daily calcium needs from dark leafy greens) there are also many factors to consider and questions to be raised while buying the right milk for you.
For example, the hormones and antibiotics injected into the animal or where the cow was raised and what it was fed including any pesticides, herbicides, & fertilizers used in the food supply. Many new mothers often go down a Google rabbit hole trying to figure out what kind of milk to feed their infants. There are endless amounts of questions being raised in the dairy industry including how CO2 and GHG emissions have an impact on our environment. According to research, cattle produce 212 Mt of CO2e per year, or 3.4% of total GHG emissions, and dairy cattle are responsible for 83.5 Mt of CO2e or 1.3% of GHG emissions within the United States. Whether the benefits of traditional milk outweigh the negatives for you, or if you’re open to a non-dairy alternative, we are here to help guide you through what is healthy and safe.
How Milk Can Effect Your Health
Many traditional kinds of milk have been found to be triggering and inflammatory to the body, with multiple health side effects to beware of. Factory farms raising traditional dairy cows often want to raise their animals the fastest they can so production is sped up, which allows them to make more money, faster. To expedite this process, facilities raise the animals in extremely crowded conditions and most animals never get to go outside. This increases bacteria, the stress on the animal which increases cortisol (and that gets passed down to you), and overall very poor hygiene of the animal. This is dangerous because bacteria is carried to the products we consume. Often farmers inject cows with a growth hormone called rBGH to speed up and increase milk production, this often causes something called environmental mastitis. Environmental mastitis is caused by bacteria and is commonly treated with antibiotics, which becomes part of the milk sold on the shelves in our grocery stores. Furthermore, in one study, researchers found all types of cow milk can cause acne. This may be because of the added hormones causing inflammation in the body (i.e. eczema), which can clog pores and lead to acne as well.
A2 Milk And Other Options
Thankfully, there are many great alternatives for us that we will discuss including A2 Cow milk, milks from other animals, and nut milks. To start, most cows' milk contains proteins A1 and A2. There are many studies done to show that A1 protein can lead to many health risks like heart disease, type 1 diabetes, and more digestive problems and inflammation. A1 is a genetic mutation, which causes the body to produce an enzyme called BCM7 which increases mucus, upset stomachs, digestive upset, and allergies with dairy. Although, there is a certain breed of cow (readily used in Europe) that only contains the A2 protein that people with dairy intolerance can consume with far less digestion problems. A2 milk possesses different enzymes that are more biocompatible and typically cause less gut imbalances and inflammation issues versus its’ A1 milk counterpart, making it a great alternative! The majority of U.S farms only use A1 cows because of the lower production cost. They tend to produce a higher yield, (more milk, faster) than A2 cows making Organic A2 cow milk slightly harder to find. There are also options like goat's milk which also only contains the A2 beta-casein, and if traditional milk is still on the table for you, we’d recommend organic grass-fed whole milk which provides milk that is much higher in beneficial fatty acids and lower in omega 6 than milk that has been raised indoors in crowded facilities. And of course, the recently growing nut milk industry. Although most nut milk brands are adding artificial flavors, fillers, preservatives and various chemicals to their nut milk, we recommend you leave those brands on the shelf. Nut milk should only be consumed if it consists of organic, whole ingredients like water, nuts, and sea salt. Anything more than that is not worth purchasing.
Here is a list of some of the healthiest milk alternatives if you’re looking to make a change.
MALK (nut milk)
Malk is a plant based milk brand that is completely transparent with its ingredients and prides themselves in having nothing artificial in their products. They also sell cashew and almond milk products along with oat milk. Unlike other nut milk brands, MALK does not contain oils, gums, fillers, or anything artificial. MALKS ingredients contain only filtered water, Himalayan pink salt, and organic almonds or organic cashews. For those who are allergic to nuts, their organic gluten-free oat milk is a fantastic alternative. Finding nut milk that has few, natural ingredients is beneficial to your body. Nut milk is low in calories, has a great source of fiber, is high in healthy fats and is high in vitamin E.
The Almond Cow
Almond Cow is another option for you if you are interested in making your own milk while also being kind to the earth. By purchasing this milk maker, you can take the nut, seed, or grain of your choice and turn it into homemade plant-based milk! Although it may be on the more expensive side, in the end, you make a huge impact on the environment and save yourself from continuously buying plastic or paper cartons. It reduces the use of CO2, saves energy, is zero waste, doesn't use plastic, and reduces transportation. Sprinkle some sesame seeds in with your nut cocktail for added calcium. They also have cleaning brushes and extra accessories to go with your machine!
Elevated Cow Milk
Alexandre (A2 Milk)
A2 milk is a great alternative for those who have digestive issues or an upset stomach after having dairy products. One recent study proves that people experience fewer gastrointestinal symptoms and inflammation over the consumption of milk with A1 protein. Alexandre A2 milk has only natural ingredients containing Organic Milk, Organic Nonfat Milk, Vitamin D3, and Vitamin A Palmitate. This is a great milk alternative because it is not only A2, but it’s also organic, grass-fed, and uses a regenerative approach to farming.
Organic Grass-Fed Milk
Organic, Grass-fed milk means cows were fully outdoors, eating a grass-fed diet, and were not fed GMO grains. According to the USDA standards, to qualify for organic standards, at least 30% of the cow’s diet has to be from the pasture, no antibiotics or growth hormones can be administered on the animal, no use of plastic pellets for roughage, no use of urea or manure or animal by-products added to feed, and 100% of feed grains and forage, including pastures, must be certified organic.
This is unlike conventional milk because cows were most likely kept indoors with no access to nature, can have traces of pesticide residue, are fed GMO grains, and can also contain added antibiotics and growth hormones. Some nutritional benefits of grass-fed milk include higher amounts of healthy Omega-3s, vaccenic acid, and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid).
There is a difference between grass-fed and grass-finished milk. Grass-fed milk means the cow was outside for a part of its life while grass-finished milk means the cow was outside for its whole entire life, feeding on grass. With the rare occasion of finding grass-finished milk, we have added a great, organic option for grass-fed milk that you can find online and in many grocery stores. Maple hills grass-fed milk is raised on small family-owned farms and is 100% organic pasture-raised, grass-fed cows. You can literally taste the difference between grass-fed and conventional milk.
Alternative Animal Milk
Unfortunately, sheep milk is slightly harder to find in stores. Whole Foods sells a brand called Haverton Hill if you want to keep an eye out for it when they restock their shelves. If you are interested in trying another sheep milk product, many have enjoyed sheep milk yogurt. It is also typically harder to find but the protein, carbohydrates, essential minerals, and healthy fats that come with it make it a great reason to try it out! This sheep milk yogurt from Whole Foods can also be bought on Amazon.
Goat milk is another healthy milk alternative to give a try. Compared to cow milk, goat milk has more protein per serving and is lower in lactose making it easier to digest than cow milk. Most goats are a2 beta-casein category and do not contain the A1 protein as we mentioned before, which makes it a better option for people who have a hard time when consuming cow milk. Goat milk is also high in calcium and fatty acids and vitamins (which can help in repairing your skin), low in cholesterol, and contains fewer allergenic proteins. This goat milk we provided a link to is sold at wholefoods and only contains 2 natural ingredients, goat milk, and Vitamin D3. Goat milk may taste different and take a couple of sips to get used to, but the benefits are certainly worth trying.
The high protein content makes sheep and goat milk a great option for your child's growth and development. Studies have shown that goat milk is similar to breast milk. Goat milk is homogeneous, less allergenic, and is better digested than cow milk. Both of these kinds of milk contain a higher amount of essential minerals, vitamins, iron, and magnesium, while also containing less sodium.
Formula Milk for Babies
If you're looking for a safe and healthy formula for your baby, try Bobbie. Bobbie is an FDA approved baby formula that is free from GMOs, gluten, corn syrup, palm oil, and added sugar. Bobbies formula is enriched with minerals and vitamins and also DHA (an important omega-3 fatty acid). It includes cows' milk protein, derived from organic grass fed cows, free from hormones and antibiotics. Although, this formula uses lactose as a main ingredient, so this would not be a great option for babies who have a milk allergy or are lactose intolerant. Bobbie is one of the few infant formulas that meet both European (which are higher than US standards) and U.S requirements. You can mainly find Bobbie online, but there are select “boutique” stores across the U.S you may find it at, so keep your eye out!
Another great option we recommend is Else formula. We choose Else for its clean label, 92% of its nutrition is made of only 3 ingredients… all organic almonds, buckwheat, and tapioca. Else is a plant-based formula that is packed with vitamins, minerals, and whole plant ingredients for toddlers 12 months and up. It contains no cholesterol and contains 1.5 grams of fiber, while most other formulas offer less than 1 gram. The leading ingredient is almonds which are extremely rich in vitamin E (an antioxidant) along with other minerals like copper and magnesium. Else is online and you can go to their website to see if there is a store near you that carries it.
Giving camel milk to babies is starting to gain traction with parents due to its’ similar nutritional profile to human breast milk. Out of all animal milk, it is the closest to human milk. Based on studies, camel milk promotes the body's natural defenses, is safe for children, effective in contributing towards an autism treatment plan, and improves overall health. Camel milk has three times Vitamin C and 10 times more iron than cow milk. There are very few camel farms in the US and it is not mass produced, making it slightly harder to find in stores. You can find some options on Amazon and a few farms like Desert Farms are shipping it directly to consumers. It is definitely worth looking into if your baby can’t drink traditional cow milk and you are open to exploring alternative animal milk options.
Something to consider when choosing milk for our kids is the relationship between animal protein (including dairy and red meat) and early puberty in children. There have been several studies done on this topic with some arguing that early puberty may be partially caused by consuming the growth hormones added to the animals but others argue that it triggers the child’s own growth hormones. A wider view, and the more probable answer, is that the environmental chemicals such as endocrine disruptors (phthalates, BPA) and heavy metals (mercury) in our food supplies are the cause – in particular animal proteins, as toxic chemicals tend to thrive in fats and fatty tissue. Regardless of what side of the argument you’re on, data shows that girls today are beginning puberty nearly one year earlier than girls did in the 1970s, with the average age continuing to fall and this deserves parents' attention.
Finding a healthy milk alternative may take a little more research, time, and money, but is a great way to make a healthy change for you or your family. Of course, these options will be individualized because everyone will have different nutritional needs and tolerances to milk, but considering these options and finding what is right for you may change your mind on which milks you consume.