This article will be open to many comments and criticism I know, but I feel it’s something I need to write. I love milk. It’s my chosen nectar as it provides a world class mix of carbohydrate, protein and hydration in one swift hit and, best of all, it’s convenient. Not everyone though shares my passion. The UK’s consumption of milk has decreased drastically in the past 20 years. More often than not, with my athletes, I am seeing cows milk being replaced with milk alternatives. Almond, coconut, rice,soya, hemp..you name it. Although milk alternatives have a rightful place in some diets, many omit cows milk from their diet without thought of dietary consequences. These milk replacements are not nutritionally equal to cows milk and certainly not superior for all. Let’s discuss……
Humans have been using cows milk in their diet for the past 7500 yrs when it was found by Europe’s earliest farmers to be an easy sourced, invaluable source of fluid and nutrition, especially when harvest was low. Before this time, like any other mammal, adults couldn’t tolerate milk past childhood due to the “switching off” of the enzyme lactase responsible for the breakdown of lactose in the milk leaving childhood. As time moved on and farming started to replace hunting, farmers learnt how to reduce the lactose in the milk so they could tolerate it better. Over the following thousand of years, humans have developed genetically to continue producing lactase past childhood and therefore enable us to drink milk into adulthood. However, many do still commonly have a lactose intolerance, but even with this, most can consume small quantities without problem or simply have lactose free cows milk instead.
Back to present times and things are changing again. Much like the demise of gluten and wheat, milk is being excluded from diets left right and centre. From the explanation above we may be able to rationalise why so many are starting to avoid cows milk, however, humans have evolved and although many moons ago cows milk wasn’t for us, it is now and it’s good! When I ask clients why they don’t use cows milk many reply with that “they don’t know” and that they “think that alternatives are simply better for you”. If you have a proven allergy or intolerance to cows milk then I would certainly agree with this statement however cows milk brings us so many positives to our diet and shouldn't’ be excluded without consideration first.
If you are going to exclude milk from your diet, the alternative options are endless. Despite the fact they look like milk, their nutritional content are not similar to cows milk in the slightest. As the infographic shows, their nutritional complexity is limited. Naturally they are low in protein but also calcium and B12. Luckily, most brands fortify their milks with calcium and B12 to ensure they can be classed as a suitable replacement for cows milk. But be aware, not all do. Get used to reading the back of labels and make sure you have the right milk for you. Additionally, protein content is virtually non existent and therefore their use as a recovery source is not as high up there as cows milk. You could add some vegan protein powder to increase the protein content. This would make it more similar to cows milk again.
Remember, there is no right or wrong in this debate and it is very individual to each person. My simple advice is, don’t exclude milk to follow a trend assuming it will make you healthier. Consider your options against your nutritional daily demands and lifestyle.
Be informed and make the right decision for you.