The Struggle of Subbing: Why Giving Up Dairy Seems so Hard
There are plenty of ways to make more healthful and sustainable food choices, such as shopping locally, supporting the community farmers market, reducing the amount of meat in our diet and avoiding processed foods. But for many of us, the alternatives we have available leave something to be desired. Especially for those looking into alternative dairy products, there seems to be so much that must be sacrificed — from protein to creaminess to satisfying taste.
But does that really have to be the case?
Let’s break down the struggle.
Several years ago, when I decided to start consuming less meat, I found myself looking for a substitute that I could enjoy in social settings where meat consumption is expected, such as BBQs and ball games. My experience with “meat alternatives” was terrible. Even when cooking at home, the only options seemed to be the same rubbery, tasteless chunks of tofu in one form or another.
It wasn’t that I missed the meat per se. It was that I missed having a delicious eating experience. That’s when I really started thinking about alternative sources of protein from the standpoint of deliciousness first.
Most arguments for removing dairy focus on avoiding the “bad stuff” or reducing the negative environmental impact of dairy and meat production. But these arguments ignore considerations of taste and health benefits for dairy substitutes. Removing dairy from our diets leaves a hole that’s hard to fill because most alternatives are low in protein; they also taste thin and watery by comparison.
Weigh the pros and cons of alternative dairy products.
No matter how it’s used — with our morning breakfast cereal, in our coffees and smoothies or even on its own — there are certain qualities we expect from the milk we consume. Namely, milk should be rich, creamy and packed with the nutrients our bodies need, like protein and calcium. The unfortunate truth is that most milk substitutes don’t live up to that expectation.
Almond milk is by far the most popular dairy alternative today. Almond milk enjoys the perception of healthfulness because it’s made from something healthful: almonds. But almond milk often contains concerning additives, as well as a fairly high sugar content to cover up the “off” flavors of almond milk. Even worse, most of the nutritional value of almonds is lost in the milk-making process, leaving only one gram of protein per serving compared with the eight grams that cow’s milk provides. When you consider that you get one gram of protein from just four almonds, you realize that almond milk isn’t exactly what it’s billed to be.
Other milk substitutes carry their own health issues. Coconut milk, for example, has nearly as much saturated fat as whole cow’s milk, and it contains no protein at all. And while soy milk contains protein, the estrogenic compound levels of this alternative are concerning to many. What’s worse is that all of these alternatives are thin, watery and often chalky, a far cry from the rich dairy experience they are meant to replace.
Coffee drinkers know better than to put almond milk in their morning cup of joe. If it doesn’t curdle, it will water down the coffee rather than provide creaminess and body — the very reason we put dairy in our coffee in the first place.
Cooking with milk substitutes is another problem. The lack of protein in these substitutes can cause sauces, desserts and casseroles to end up thin, without the rich flavors that are the hallmarks of these dishes. While there are creative ways to overcome some of these issues, not everyone’s commitment is strong enough to go through the effort of relearning how to cook.
It’s time to find a truly worthwhile option.
We need healthy substitutes for animal proteins that are both delicious and simple. If something is easily available, inherently healthier and delicious, people will be more likely to enjoy making the switch to better alternatives.
Thankfully, there are some great options for alternative protein sources outside the realm of dairy or meat. From lentils, which hold eight grams of protein in a cup, to beans, which carry a whopping 15 grams, there is no limit to the options available. Even some greens like moringa and spirulina contain as much as eight grams of protein in just two tablespoons of their leaves.
Sacrificing flavor shouldn’t be a requirement for adopting healthier and greener ways to eat. Author Michael Pollan is famous for saying, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This is a beautifully simple way of going about making changes that will lead to a more environmentally responsible diet. It’s easy to add another color to your plate each meal, simply by eating a few more vegetables or a little less meat.
Taken individually, these changes may seem small. But together, they add up to a much healthier lifestyle.
Adam Lowry is the co-founder of Ripple Foods, a company that exists to make dairy-free foods as they should be: high in protein, low in sugar, loaded with nutrition, and delicious. Adam believes that business is our greatest vehicle for positive social and environmental change. Connect with Ripple Foods on Twitter.