World Milk Day: Nutritionist Shares Vegan Alternatives For Dairy

Imagine any Indian festive spread without milk-based delicacies. It is nearly impossible. From sweets to beverages, even everyday meals are incomplete without milk or milk-based products. Recipes for panchamrit, payasam, chhena, ras malai, buttermilk, lassi, gulab jamun, sevai, gajar halwa, etc. use milk or milk-based products that make them creamy and nutritious. The annual World Milk Day on June 1 celebrates the versatility, nutritional value, and richness that milk and dairy products add to different cuisines around the world.

Video Credit: Bhusanur Cooking/ YouTube

If you focus on the Indian culinary landscape, milk, ghee, paneer, curd, and khoya are an integral part of every regional cuisine, irrespective of your choice to eat vegetarian or non-vegetarian food. Many people cannot even imagine their meals without milk and dairy products. However, rampant news around adulteration and reports indicating poor-quality dairy products being sold in markets, have made people conscious about their health. They are looking for alternatives.

Adding to this are celebrities and influencers who are often spotted promoting dairy alternatives. Mugdha Pradhan, a Pune-based Functional Nutritionist and Healer, says that people getting acquainted with veganism and trying to hop on the dietary trend without understanding the needs of their bodies, misinformation about dairy in the mainstream media, and many companies coming up with new alternatives to milk and milk-based products, claiming they are better. This has pushed people to look beyond dairy even if they don’t have any health issue after consuming milk or milk-based products. 

Indian Market For Milk Alternatives Is Growing At CAGR Of 6-8%

Mugdha Pradhan added, “Social, health, and commercial aspects are affecting trends of consumers in India.” According to a report by GlobalData, published on April 2, 2024, the pandemic has made people more conscious about their health. The leading data and analytics company found that 79% of Indians are looking for plant-based products, so much so that the market for milk alternatives is expected to witness a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6-8% over 2023-27.

The report also mentioned that at least 60% of Indians are either lactose intolerant or struggle with dairy allergies. The nutritionist said, “We ask people to refrain from dairy if they are experiencing health issues like congestion, skin-related problems, including acne and breakouts, indigestion, obesity, fibroids, or something else.”

However, she does not agree with the blank statement that many people make regarding dairy being bad for their health. Nutritionist Mugdha Pradhan added, “Milk and dairy products are bad for you only if they cause health issues or their sources are malpractice to increase the output of milk, such as adding preservatives, injecting hormones and antibiotics to animals, and contaminating the products in any way.”

She suggested if the source of milk is good and dairy is not affecting the health of consumers, there is no harm in consuming it. She also promotes buying raw milk from the market and making curd, paneer, khoya, and ghee at home, thus, reducing the chances of consuming adulterated and contaminated dairy products. 

Is Milk The Only Good Source Of Protein And Calcium For Vegetarians?

Bursting the myth around milk, the nutritionist clarified that milk, though has many essential amino acids, a cup (100ml) of milk will only provide 4g of protein, while the requirement for, let’s say, an average adult Indian woman (5’3”) is 60g a day. 

It is also a good source of calcium but alone it cannot help a person fulfil their nutrition requirements. “One will have to consume it in large quantities, probably a litre a day, “ she added, suggesting, one needs to include different kinds of fruits, vegetables, and nuts into their diet. 

Popular Milk Alternatives In India

While speaking to Slurrp, functional nutritionist Mugdha Pradha shared a few milk alternatives that are popular in India and threw a spotlight on which ones are actually good for health. She ranked them based on their nutritional value. Whether you are a vegan or experiencing health issues due to dairy, you can make an informed decision and opt for alternatives.

Coconut Milk

Mugdha Pradhan said, “Coconut milk is the best alternative to dairy and inexpensive in comparison to other options.” Much like dairy, coconut milk and products have been a part of Indian cuisine for centuries. Therefore, it can also make the switch a little easier for people who have always loved regular milk and milk-based products.

Almond Milk & Cashew Milk

The nutritionist said that almond and cashew milk alternatives are also good, however, people need to be wary of the source. There can be fertilisers added to the crop or preservatives added to the final products to increase their shelf life. She added that though people can make it at home as well, they will need to use a lot of almonds and cashews, which can be expensive if you have the habit of drinking milk every day. The same can be the case with macadamia milk.

Rice Milk

Rice milk can be good for. However, the nutritionist said that many commercially available options might have fertilisers, chemicals, and stabilisers. It can do more harm than good for your body. If you can find a vendor selling clean rice milk, you can add it to your diet. 

Hemp Milk

Hemp milk can be good for you. Mugdha Pradhan added that it has a strong flavour. Not many people like its taste. However, if you can get over the flavour and smell of hemp milk, it can be a good alternative to dairy. It is nutritious but can be a little expensive. 

Oat Milk

Oat milk is another alternative to dairy that many people opt for and celebrities endorse. However, the nutritionist added that depending on the source, some brands add gluten to it, and there is always a chance for oat milk packaging to contain preservatives. “People ask us about oat milk, but we do not recommend it,” said Mugdha Pradhan.

Soy Milk

The nutritionist shared that most of the soy that is available in the market is genetically modified and can contain oestrogen. Hence, consuming this alternative to dairy milk can lead to a drop in testosterone levels, hormonal imbalance in the body, autoimmune disorders, and multiple other health issues. Hence, the nutritionist does not suggest people drink soy milk unless they verify the source and are sure about the ingredients.

The expert ended the discussion with a suggestion for consumers. This World Milk Day, Mugdha Pradhan said that people must always read the ingredients at the back of any packet. If the product contains preservatives, sugar, or anything else that it should not, they must refrain from buying it.