The Truth About Nondairy Milk
Alternatives to cow’s milk are flowing off store shelves, but they’re not all healthy
Touring the dairy aisle at my local supermarket the other day revealed an utter bevy of New Age milks that have never oozed from an udder, including numerous almond-based amalgams, copious coconut concoctions, and oodles of oat options (oat nog, anyone?). Several other seedy, grainy, and nutty alt-milks are creeping into the fringes.
It’s turning into the nondairy section, with a few gallons of regular ol’ cow’s milk practically put out to pasture, relegated to a few bottom shelves so the unenlightened must bend over.
U.S. sales of this bewildering array of fancy-schmancy plant-based milk products — many with unhealthy added ingredients — grew 20% last year to $2.5 billion, snagging 15% of the total milk market. Sales of oat milk, the latest darling among alt-milk enthusiasts, soared 170%.
Younger adults are leading the new milky way. While only half of Americans 55 and older have ever tried nondairy alternatives, 92% of the 18-to-34 set are into alt-milks, according to a survey by the International Food Information Council.
Tastes they are a-changin’
The reasons for the shift are far from homogenized. The polling firm Morning Consult asked people why they switched to alts, allowing multiple answers:
45%: Better taste
33%: Easier to digest
26%: Better for the planet
22%: Lactose intolerance
15%: Recipes call for it
12%: Heard it from a friend
I’m among the 65% of humans who don’t produce sufficient amounts of an enzyme called lactase, which is needed to digest lactose, the sugar that occurs naturally in milk. It’s not pretty: Gas, bloating, diarrhea (which explains why I was loitering in the nondairy aisle). Yes, lactose-free milk offers the same key nutrients, but check to see if sugar has been added to replace the natural sweetness lost.