A single liter of cow’s milk takes around 9 square meters of land and approximately 630 liters of water. Two king-size mattresses and a volume of 10.5 beer kegs are enough space for that much beer. Dairy milk production emits 3.2 kilos of greenhouse emissions every liter.
The costs of producing milk are high because of its worldwide appeal. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the dairy industry had 1.7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2015, nearly 3% of human-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Oat, almond, rice, and soy milk production accounts for one-third of the greenhouse gas emissions and utilizes a fraction of the land and water required to produce dairy milk, according to a Science paper published in 2018.
A spate of plant-based milk has flooded the market thanks to many environmentally-conscious consumers. $2.6 billion worth of plant-based milk will be sold in the United States by SPINS, a business that tracks natural and organic product sales, in 2021. This is a 33% increase in dollar sales from 2019. A food scientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, David McClements, believes that “food businesses have learned that customers… desire change.”
Plant milk is healthier for the climate and the environment, but they don’t have the same nutritional value as cow’s milk. “Milk, it does a body good,” said the legendary dairy campaign of the 1980s. There are 13 essential nutrients in this creamy drink, including protein for muscle growth, immune-boosting vitamins A and Z, and calcium and vitamin D for bone strength. Even when plant milk is supplemented, experts aren’t sure how well the body absorbs these nutrients. Thus they tend to be in lower concentrations in plant-based milk.
Leah Bessa, chief science officer of De Novo Dairy, a biotechnology business in Cape Town, South Africa, which makes dairy proteins without animals, believes dairy is tough to replace. It’s not possible to develop a viable substitute that is both sustainable and has the same nutritional profile and functional properties.”
Possibilities for Improvement
What is milk, exactly?
According to its traditional meaning, milk is a fluid produced by the mammary glands of female mammals. Eva Tornberg, a food scientist at Lund University in Sweden, likes to focus on the molecular structure of milk. She has produced potato milk. She explains that this is what makes it so nutritious. “It’s an emulsion…a mixture of water and oil droplets.”
McClements points out that this emulsion gives milk its trademark creaminess and makes it a suitable nutrient carrier. Milk contains water-soluble elements, including riboflavin and vitamin B12, and oil-soluble ones, like vitamins A and D.
Human digestive enzymes may react with a much larger surface area because the fat is divided into many oil droplets rather than a single layer. This allows the nutrients in the droplets to be absorbed quickly and easily.
McClements points out that most plant-based milk is also emulsions. Therefore they can potentially be excellent nutrition delivery systems. In general, though, he asserts that plant-based milk manufacturers have concentrated more on giving the correct flavor and texture to appeal to customers’ preferences. “Nutritional elements need considerably more improvement.”
According to Megan Lott, a registered dietitian with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research program in Durham, NC, soy milk is the closest rival among the plant-based milk currently on the market. All of the necessary amino acids are present in the protein in soy milk, making it almost identical to that found in cow milk. According to her, as a dairy milk substitute, it is allowed by the USDA for use in child nutrition and school meal plans.
In contrast, plant-based milk, such as soy and almond, is lacking in other vital elements. According to Lott, many parents believe that substituting one cup of plant-based milk for one cow’s milk will provide their children with all the nutrients they require. This is not the case at all.
The most difficult elements to obtain while avoiding dairy products are vitamin D and calcium, which are critical for developing children. Lott claims that a diet high in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and lean meats provides most of the nutrients found in milk. To locate an alternative for your child’s calcium and vitamin D, you should focus on those two nutrients.
To match or even surpass the levels of calcium and vitamin D found in dairy milk, several manufacturers add these nutrients to plant-based milk. However, what remains to be seen is how well the body will utilize the additional nutrients. Lott asserts that the number of nutrients shown on the Nutrition Facts label may not accurately reflect what a person’s body can absorb and utilize.
This is because plant-based milk may include naturally occurring plant compounds that inhibit nutritional absorption. Plant milk such as oat and soy contain phytic acid, which binds to minerals including calcium, iron, and zinc, reducing their absorption by the body.
As well, overdosing on a single fantastic thing might be counterproductive. When calcium levels in almond milk are too high, vitamin D absorption may suffer, according to McClements and coworkers in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2021.
McClements says further study is needed to understand better the interactions between chemicals in plant milk and how those interactions impact nutritional absorption in the body. According to him, plant-based milk manufacturers may make better-tasting products by focusing on the optimal ratio of components. That “sweet spot” is what we’re looking for.