Milk is a staple food in many countries across the world. Despite the increased consumption of the product, the diary has proved to have various effects ranging from good to bad. Diary contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases accounting for a quarter of the total personal carbon print for humans. Due to this effect, alternatives have been made, shifting consumers from dairy to plant-based products. A recent survey in the United Kingdom suggests that a quarter of adults now consume the plant-based alternative. As per the survey, the younger generation between 16 and 23 years is the most significant consumer of the alternative (Ritchie, 2022). Thus, the paper seeks to argue why the plant-based milk alternative is better for humans than dairy milk by determining whether environmental effects outweigh their nutritional aspects.
The nutritional components of a liter of dairy milk are incomparable to that of a plant-based alternative. Dairy milk has a larger calorie count and, more significantly, includes a higher protein concentration than plant-based milk. A cow’s milk contains approximately 3.4 grams of protein per 100 mL, but almond milk contains just 0.5 grams per 100 mL, making it more nutritional. The source of natural dairy makes it a complete protein, implying that it has the complete profile of necessary amino acids compared to other protein sources. Although plant-based milk has the same name as its dairy counterparts, it is quite different from cow’s milk. Plant milk is water that has been mixed with nuts, cereals, seeds, legumes, or coconut. The production involves combining the selected products such as almonds or rolled oats with freshwater, draining the liquid, and consuming it. The “milk” produced due to the process is plant-based milk. One of the advantages of plant-based milk is that they are commonly supplemented with minerals and vitamins. Supplements such as vitamin D are prevalent, making the product more nutritional than cow’s milk. Cattle’s milk has a low natural vitamin D concentration, while fortified variations are available. Without supplementation, vegans are in danger of developing a vitamin B12 deficit since vitamin B12 is a micronutrient exclusively found in animal sources. However, vitamin B12 is now added to most plant-based milk making the nutritional profile less of a concern to many.
Milk provides excellent nutrients for the body but also harms the environment. Milk is used in producing cheese and butter, which have a higher carbon footprint. Policy experts from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recently observed that although beef consumption decreased dramatically between 2005 and 2014, the demand for various dairy products increased over the same period. Unfortunately, cheese and butter are among the most greenhouse gas-intensive products people shop for daily. As a policy expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Food and Agriculture division notes, “raising cows requires significant energy” (Shalant, 2017).
To begin with, farmers have to cultivate feed, mainly grain, which necessitates the use of many herbicides and fertilizers that contributes significantly to global warming pollution. Following the consumption of that grain, the cows’ digestive tracts emit methane, and their dung contributes to the emission of significant amounts of greenhouse gases. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has observed significant methane production from lagoons, where farmers dispose of animal dung. Nutrient oxide (nitrous oxide) is another especially harmful by-product of cow manure, and it is a climate-warming pollutant that is 298 times more destructive than carbon dioxide. Since supplementation of plant-based milk can lead to the same nutritional profile, humans should consider plant-based milk, which is less detrimental to the environment.
Some individuals urge that the production process of plant-based milk alternatives is not safe for human consumption and the environment. A previous study explores the production process for the two milk products. Konuskan (2021) states, “Plant-based milk alternatives are produced from water-soluble extracts of oilseeds, cereals, nuts, legumes, and pseudo-cereals. During processing, the main idea is to reach a structure like cow’s milk, a homogenous, and stable colloidal dispersions or emulsions with particles in the range of 1 nm to about 1 mm” (294). In response to the study, it is clear that the production process for plant-based milk is similar to that of dairy milk-based products. For the production of plant-based milk alternatives, the product is immersed in either hot or cold water for a specific period determined by the professional to prevent the essential nutrients from depletion. After soaking in water, the individual collects the extracts and washes them to ensure they are free from insoluble by performing a series of infiltration processes. After infiltration, specific amounts of flavors and other additives are added to the products. The main reason for incorporating the additives into the plant-based milk is to ensure it meets the exact requirements of the dairy-based milk. Finally, partial sterilization and homogenization are essential as they complete the manufacturing process. They benefit the products by increasing their stabilization and the duration of the product remaining usable. When comparing the two milk-based products, the production process is quite similar. As a result, the production process for plant-based products is safe and does not expose humans to any consumption hazards. Since plant-based milk is safe for human consumption and outweighs dairy milk, it is recommendable that humans consider using the product more than dairy milk products.
In contrast, plant-based milk alternatives provide a wide range of benefits to both humans and the environment compared to dairy milk. In areas where the dairy milk cannot meet the demand of the people, plant-based milk alternatives can effectively address the concern. Even though plant-based alternatives are eco-friendly, they are also available at a low price. It means that individuals can access all the essential nutrients in dairy milk by purchasing plant-based alternatives at a low price. As a result, individuals should consider using plant-based milk alternatives more often than dairy milk as it is cost-effective and available regardless of the season.
Despite being that the plant-based milk alternatives outweighs the dairy milk in various considerations, there are significant concerns that human should consider before consuming the alternatives. Various additives are added to the product during the production process of plant-based milk alternatives to increase its flavor. Sugars have many health concerns, and not everybody can consume products with such additives. Individuals prefer consuming products free from sugar-related additives to live healthy lives. Also, humans should note that the price of plant-based milk alternatives is not generally low compared to dairy milk. The prices for the plant-based milk alternative are not uniform because some are available at higher prices when compared to the others and dairy milk. As a result, both are fit for human consumption. Still, individuals should consider plant-based alternatives as dairy milk provides the same benefits and does not expose the environment to hazards.
In conclusion, milk is an essential diet for human consumption, providing many nutritional benefits. Both dairy and plant-based milk alternatives provide essential nutrients to humans, although they vary in specific ways. As a result, the plant-based milk alternatives outweigh the dairy milk as it is environmentally friendly and cost-effective. As a result, humans should consider consuming plant-based milk alternatives to dairy milk.
Shalant, J. (2017). To Shrink Your Carbon Footprint, Ease Up on the Dairy. NRDC. Retrieved 6 April 2022, from https://www.nrdc.org/stories/shrink-your-carbon-footprint-ease-dairy.
Ritchie, A. (2022). Dairy vs. plant-based milk: what are the environmental impacts? Our World in Data. Retrieved 6 April 2022, from https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impact-milks#:~:text=A%20liter%20of%20dairy%20milk,0.5%20grams%20in%20almond%20milk.