I’m no coffee addict, but I do enjoy my morning bulletproof and catching up with friends (or myself), over a an almond milk latte every once in a while. I thrive on the cafe vibes and find myself very work productive while soaking up the atmosphere…or perhaps that’s the caffeine speaking?!
Almond milk or coconut milk are my go-to dairy milk alternatives (when dining out) and I’ve accustomed my taste buds to really enjoy the different taste and texture than regular coffee (with cows milk). When a cafe uses a milk that has nasties added, I can usually tell and my naturopath instinct kicks in to do some detective work. So you can imagine my disappointment when I recently discovered one of my favourite local cafes did the old switch-a-roo on me and started using dairy free milks that are not up to my (admittedly high) naturopath standards. Relax, I’m not talking about Nutrition Republic– they still get my tick of approval 🙂
For those that don’t do so well on dairy, there are now many alternatives available, but only a few that I can confidently recommend as healthy options. I know it can get confusing and hard keeping up with the latest additions to the market, so when you’re next shopping for or ordering a dairy free milk option, watch out for these added nasties:
Sucrose (sugar) consumption is plain and simple detrimental to your health. Table sugar and any products made from sugar, such as lollies, chocolate, syrups, cakes, biscuits, soft drinks, juices, sauces, yoghurts, packaged foods and in this case, added to milk alternatives are included.
Products made with sugar will contribute to the following detrimental health effects in your body:
- A dramatic increase in your blood sugar levels, triggering the body to produce insulin. High insulin surges (due to high glucose) over time contribute to obesity, insulin resistance, type-2 diabetes, high cholesterol, triglyceride production and fatty liver.
- The high blood glucose levels are followed by a state of low blood glucose levels or hypoglycaemia, due to the over-stimulation of insulin. This leaves the body and brain starved of glucose and can lead to headaches, dizziness, mood swings, shakes, behavioural issues, poor concentration, fatigue and excessive sweating. Initially, the glucose surge also stimulates the happy neurotransmitter serotonin. Over time, this altering of brain chemistry leads to addictions and cravings for more sugar.
- The body requires greater levels of vitamins, enzymes, and minerals when it is hit with a sugar load. This leads to nutritional deficiencies, resulting in signs and symptoms in the body. It is common to have a Magnesium deficiency after regular sugar consumption (think stress, insomnia, restless legs, muscle pains, cramps or spasms, anxiety, heart palpitations).
- Although to a lesser extent than fructose, sucrose forms Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) when it reacts with amino acids and fats. This leads to premature ageing and metabolic debris building up in your joints, organs and skin tissue. Yep, this includes the dreaded wrinkles!
- Oxidative damage (rust) in the body, causing a higher demand for antioxidants and an acceleration of the ageing process.
- Sugar will damage levels of healthy good bacteria, throughout the gastrointestinal tract. This imbalance leads to many digestive upsets and has a detrimental effect on the strength and function of the body’s immune system. An overgrowth of the yeast Candida albicans is common with high sugar intake.
While on the topic of sweeteners, leave any milks on the shelf that contain the natural sweetener, agave. Dubbed as a low GI healthy alternative, this one can get up to 70-90% fructose– contributing to fatty liver, insulin resistance (therefore PCOS, weight gain and inflammatory conditions) just to name a few.
This additive derived from red seaweed is commonly found in almond and coconut milk to help thicken and stabilise the product. The type of carrageenan which has been approved for the use in food products is also referred to as undegraded carrageenan (unlike it’s cancer causing degraded carrageenan counterpart). Carrageenan ufortunatley lacks any nutritional value and instead may contribute to health issues with regular consumption.
It is an indigestible polysaccharide (carbohydrate) which disrupts digestion and can contribute to diarrhoea, intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and therefore cause an unhealthy immune response in your body. Animal studies have shown a production inflammation (a known driver for hormone imbalances) and in some cases, intestinal ulceration and bleeding after long term consumption of undegraded carrageenan. (1)
When unstable unsaturated fats in seed and vegetable oils (such as sunflower oil) are added to products such as milks, any heat during this process can contribute to an altered chemical structure of the fat. Their instability leads to their transformation into a damaging trans fat.
Your body cannot recognise this altered chemical structure and trans fats are therefore toxic. Side effects on consuming trans fats include:
- Increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and inflammatory conditions
- In the cardiovascular system, they promote inflammation and cause damage to the lining of the blood vessels, increase the LDL cholesterol, reduce HDL cholesterol and slow the conversion of omega 3s into beneficial DHA
- Linked to age-related macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, compromised immune system, fertility problems with both men and women, low birth weight babies
Avoid milk alternatives containing Maltodextrin, as this is potentially sourced from genetically modified corn. Find out why GM is a health hazard here.
If you have digestive issues such as fructose malabsorption, or do better on a low FODMAP diet due to conditions such as IBS, then restricting coconut milks altogether may be required for better digestion. Particularly an issue for these individuals are milks containing the polysaccharide guar gum (derived from guar bean). Note: Not everyone will have issues with coconut milk and guar gum.
Some other additives such as acidity regulators may cause issues with MSG sensitive individuals. The flavour enhancer MSG can be hidden on labels as ‘natural flavours’.
Brands to avoid
Ok so now to the name and shame segment. Some milk alternative brands that include one or more of these potentially health-damaging ingredients include:
- MILKLAB Almond and Coconut Milk (the trendy new brand many cafes are now using)
- Australian Own Almond Milk and their Almond & Coconut Milk blend
- Almond Breeze Almond Milk, Almond & Cashew Milk Blend, Almond & Coconut Milk Blend
- So Good Coconut Milk, Almond & Coconut Milk, Almond Milk
- Macro Organic Almond Milk
So what about soy? I think you know me better than that by now. Take a peek over here why I will never recommend soy milk as a healthy alternative.
Oat milk contains traces of gluten and I don’t recommend straight rice milk as large amounts milk may contribute to arsenic exposure. If quinoa milk tickles your fancy (it does have a very distinct taste), it is gluten free, however can be common for people who are sensitive to gluten to also cross-react to quinoa (as well as rice).
If you’re at home and using coconut milk & cream in recipes such as smoothies, coconut yoghurt and my panna cotta, then using BPA free canned brands such as Honest To Goodness, Global Organics*, Ayam and Spiral* is recommended (you can simply water them down if need be).
In coffee, Pure Harvest Organic Unsweetened Almond and CocoQuench (coconut with a small amount of rice milk) are the best options I’ve found while buying beverages out. For whipping up a drink at home, The Broken Head Company Coconut Milk and Nutty Bruce Almond and/ or Coconut milks are also free from the above nasties.
*Note: These brands do contain guar gum
Best yet is making up your own homemade nut or coconut milk. I include my favourite recipes in my upcoming Vibrant Woman Challenge.
Otherwise, there are always the humble herbal teas, or really appreciating the taste of coffee through a long back or espresso– no sugar, no milk. My good friend and coach actually hacks his day by ordering a black coffee and using a BYO takeaway coffee canister filled with MCT Oil and organic gelatin and he shakes himself up a delish bulletproof when out and about. Love it!
Awareness Is Key
It always pays check in and ask questions when it comes to the food and drink you’re feeding your body. If you’re not sure what milk your favourite cafe uses, just ask. If they care enough to question what you’re healthier alternative ideas are, let them know. Money talks.
If you’re after further guidance into healthier alternatives of your favourite foods, see my book Balanced, The Natural Way To Healthy Hormones.
Have you found any other healthy milk alternatives or favourite homemade milk recipes? I’d love to hear about them!
Love, health and happiness,
(1) J K Tobacman. Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments. Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Oct; 109(10): 983–994.