They’re in restaurants, grocery stores (and not just in the kale-happy ones), gas stations, and most likely in your in-laws’ house. What are they? Vegan dairy options! Don’t worry; you don’t need to move to California or register for a 15K to join the dairy-free movement.
What does “vegan dairy” mean, and what does it include? Dairy foods are eggs and animal milk products. Vegan dairy foods do not contain any eggs or animal milk. After centuries of consuming conventional animal dairy, why change now? Well, there are several reasons why people may choose vegan dairy, the most common is health. Still, others choose vegan dairy out of concern for the treatment and care of dairy animals, or the impact that dairy farming has on the environment.
According to Dr. Mohammad N. Fareed, an internist in Wisconsin (coincidentally, the dairy capital of America), “About two percent of children under age four have an allergy to cow milk. This can result in asthma, eczema, urticaria (a skin rash or hives that can be triggered by certain foods), and other anaphylactic reactions”. While most young children can handle non-vegan milk and milk products, the narrative on dairy tolerance changes as we grow older. As we age, many people have difficulty consuming regular dairy. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), approximately sixty-five percent of adults have some level of intolerance to lactose, the sugar found in milk and milk products. A person with lactose intolerance has difficulty breaking down lactose in their small intestine due to a reduced production of the enzyme lactase. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), allergies to cow’s milk and eggs are the most common food allergies in children and adults. The common symptoms of dairy intolerance are stomach pain, cramping, and diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration. Adults can have more severe health issues that can be exacerbated by dairy. Dr. Fareed goes on to state that, “As adults, dairy can cause inflammation due to an immune-mediated response. This can trigger migraines, sinus congestion, eczema, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, and even seizures.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, the following factors can increase a person’s risk of sensitivity or intolerance to dairy products:
- Ethnicity: People of Asian descent and specifically east Asians, Middle Easterners, Greeks, Italians, and West Africans are mostly affected.
- Aging: As people age, the ability to tolerate dairy becomes challenging because our bodies stopped making the enzyme lactase from around age five.
- Infants born prematurely: Babies born prematurely have a higher chance of lower lactase levels because lactase is produced in the intestines, which fully develop in the later stage of the last trimester.
- Diseases: Illnesses can reduce lactase production. Diseases of the small intestine, such as Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and celiac disease, reduce lactase production.
- Cancer treatments: Radiation and chemotherapy can increase the risk of lactose intolerance because they can make the digestive lining more sensitive.
Aside from health concerns, why would people forego animal dairy products? Consumers are paying more attention to animal care and the environment. As with all industries, farmers are always looking for ways to improve efficiency, increase profits, and decrease costs. There is concern that today’s farming methods do not pay enough attention to animal welfare. Chickens may be confined in cages that do not provide room for movement, which can increase salmonella risks in both the chicken and the eggs. Even cage-free eggs come from chickens that are kept indoors with little room for movement. Free-range eggs are from birds that are allowed to be outdoors and “range freely.”
There are also concerns about the dairy farming industry. Some animal welfare groups have stated that calves are separated from their mothers soon after birth to conserve the milk for sale, that the environment of the cows does not meet animal welfare requirements, and that the cows are injected with hormones to increase milk production. These hormones include estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and artificial growth hormones such as recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which is also known as recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST). According to the American Cancer Society, there are reports indicating rBGH has adverse effects on cows; however, there is no research concluding an adverse impact on humans from consuming milk from these cows and. The Food and Drug Administration has approved its use. Interestingly, Canada, Japan, and the European Union prohibit the use of many of these hormones in their dairy farms.
The environment is a hot topic these days, from online discussions to political debates. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a farm with 2,000 cows produces about ninety-million pounds of manure a year. (The larger dairy farms have more than 15,000 cows!). The manure seeps into the soil and waterways. The soil then emits nitrate gases such as nitrous oxide (which is 298 times more powerful than carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere, causing a greenhouse effect. Manure seepage into the waterways can cause water pollution.
Ok, so you cannot or will not eat animal dairy, now what? Well, lucky for you, it is 2020, and there are a lot of options to be vegan in your dairy choices. First of all, vegan dairy is now available in all grocery stores, not just the expensive specialty stores that make you reconsider sending the children to college. Here’s a comparison of the nutrition of some dairy and vegan milk options:
Dairy and Vegan Milk (per 8 ounce serving)
|Milk Type||Calories||Protein, grams||Carbs, grams||Fat, grams||Sugars, grams|
In addition to milk, there are vegan substitutes for butter, yogurt, cheese, sour cream, and ice cream as well as vegan egg substitutes. Most are made using soy, nut, or coconut milk along with several other plant-based ingredients, including algae.
Eggs are a main component of baked goods. As an avid vegan baker, I have substituted eggs with applesauce, bananas, and coconut cream mixed with baking powder and baking soda. For macaroni and “cheese,” you can use tofu, nut blend “cheese,” or nutritional yeast (a deactivated yeast that has a nutty, cheesy taste). Butter can be substituted with margarine. However, if you want something a bit healthier, then nut oils work well. I have made vegan chocolate chip cookies with coconut oil and coconut cream, and you do not miss the butter or eggs at all. Nowadays, you may be in the minority in your local coffee shop when you ask for your latte with regular cow’s milk. There are numerous varieties of nut “milk” choices, such as the traditional soy, almond, and coconut milk, as well as the newer cashew and pea milk. For those of you who have a nut allergy and are dairy-free (seriously, what do you eat?), try oat, rice, and hemp milk. Instead of dairy yogurt, you can try soy, coconut, or any of the many nut yogurts on the market (give cashew yogurt a try). Ice cream may seem difficult to replace, however with the formulas these dairy-free companies have; the nut milk ice creams are great options.
So, the dilemma is to be dairy or not to be dairy? You can be vegan dairy or vegan dairy adjacent (based on your mood of the day), or a vegan dairy supporter (you’ll cheer your dairy-free buddies while you have that whole milk mocha with extra cream). However, there are some things to consider when choosing any vegan or non-vegan dairy options. Some of these factors include your health, the sourcing of food, the environment, farming practices, animal care, the organic cost, and your commitment to eat and drink food that is healthy and halal in all of its forms. After all, you are reading Halal Consumer© magazine!
Husna T. Ghani has an MSEd and an MBA. She has taught health and science for years. When she’s not working, she reads, writes, sketches, and tries to save the world (or something like that).
Reprinted from the Winter 2019 issue of Halal Consumer© magazine with permission from the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA®) and Halal Consumer© magazine.