Whether you are lactose intolerant, vegan, or simply looking for a tasty non-dairy milk option, you’re in luck. Alternatives to cow’s milk have never been more numerous or more popular. Annual retail sales of plant-based non-dairy beverages—including soy, almond, rice, coconut, hemp milk and others—are currently estimated at over $1 billion in the United States. The growing popularity of these substitutes comes at the expense of cow’s milk consumption, which has been declining over the past decade, and there are many reasons for this.

What’s that in your glass?

  • Under current industrial farming methods, cow’s milk is often laden with bio-engineered hormones, such as rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), which is injected into cows to increase milk production. This hormone has been directly linked to breast, colon and prostate cancer.
  • Factory-farmed cows are in such a state of ill health that they are frequently injected with antibiotic medicines, as well as being rubbed down with chemical ointments to manage chronic infections.
  • The USDA allows up to 1.5 million white blood cells (a.k.a pus) per milliliter of milk. The pus usually comes from infected udders on the cows, known as mastitis.

If the “extra ingredients” in milk don’t leave a sour taste in your mouth, compelling evidence about the link between dairy consumption and disease is laid out in T. Colin Campbell’s best selling book The China Study. A world-renowned nutrition researcher, Campbell presents medical evidence that the best diet for overall human health is one based on whole foods and plants. Campbell shows the links between animal fat and protein—particularly cow’s milk—and a range of Western ailments, including autoimmune diseases, obesity, cancer, heart disease and more.

Don’t have a cow … it’s easier than you think!

Nut and other plant-based milks are delicious, nutritious and are the perfect alternative for those wishing to avoid dairy. Be aware, however, that many of the store-bought versions of these beverages contain added sugars and oils, as well as additives such as guar gum and carrageenan.

By far, the best milk alternatives are those you make yourself with fresh, whole ingredients. While some milks, such as soy or rice, require special steps or equipment to prepare, others, such as hemp or cashew, can be made with simply a blender and water—you can even skip the straining step, if you’d like.

Finally, keep in mind that milk alternatives are not replacements for whole foods. After all, almond milk is not a whole food like actual almonds, nor is drinking rice milk the same as eating brown rice. Still, each of these beverages offers certain benefits, ranging from high levels of protein to healthy fats and antioxidants. And for those of us whose digestive systems can’t tolerate cow’s milk, they can be a real game changer.