One of the most common questions about vegan and vegetarian diets remains… is milk vegan? As more people become interested in plant-based eating – it’s not always easy to determine what’s acceptable and what’s not in specific dietary patterns.
What Exactly is Milk Made Of?
The major ingredients in cow’s milk are water, fat, lactose (milk sugar), minerals (salts), and proteins. As a food, cows’ milk is nutrient-dense and incorporates varying amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Milk also contains many nutrients in trace amounts, such as pigments, vitamins, enzymes, phospholipids, and gases.
In terms of proteins, milk has a heterogeneous mixture of about 20 proteins with a balance consisting of about 80% casein to 20% whey proteins.
Common Types of Animal Milk
Traditional milk products are termed “dairy” and include things like butter, cheese, milk, yogurt, and ice cream. Any kind of animal product (including traditional dairy products) is completely off-limits to vegans.
So, Do Vegans Drink Milk?
The quick and easy answer to this question is – no.
Vegans opt to eat no animal products (which includes products like dairy, gelatin and eggs). In contrast, vegetarians eat no meat but may consume other animal by-products like eggs, cheese, butter, and so on.
Of course, the resounding “no” to vegans drinking milk is regarding animal milk products.
Typically, when we think of milk, it’s cow’s milk that comes to mind. In fact, around 85% of human milk consumption (excluding mother-to-baby milk) comes from cows.
However, humans across the globe consume all types of animal milk.
Vegan and Plant-Based Dairy Alternatives
The vegan diet has gone mainstream these days as plant-based eating becomes more popular with Millennials and Gen Z. According to research from the UK, the vegan diet has increased by as much as 350% in the last decade.
As plant-based diets and veganism is embraced by new generations, plant-based vegan dairy choices are on the rise. Traditional cows’ milk and other dairy products may be a no-go for vegans… but there are a plethora of plant-based milk options on the market nowadays.
Instead of traditional yogurt, cheese, and butter products, vegans are reaching for soy-based alternatives and other kinds of plant-based products.
Vegans should note that some “dairy-free” products may still contain a small amount of dairy, so it’s always important to read the label when selecting new plant-based products.
Here are some of the current milk alternatives that exist on the market today.
Best Plant-Based Milk Alternatives
Soy milk is a traditional and common replacement for cow’s milk. This alternative has the same consistency as cows’ milk with regards to proteins and fats, which makes it an easy swap for coffee or baking.
Oat milk has become a rising star in the plant-based sector. Its consistency is thick and creamy which makes it a popular choice for those who enjoy a fancy coffee drink in the morning (or afternoon). Oat milk has a milk oat flavor but can be found sweetened, unsweetened, and flavored with things like vanilla or chocolate.
Almond milk is made with ground almonds and water. It’s often fortified and is enjoyed by vegans for its rich texture and flavor. This style of plant-based milk is also an easy swap for cows’ milk because of its flavor and consistency.
Cashew milk is the same as almond milk but is made with cashew nuts instead. This plant-based milk has a slightly nuttier flavor and a different nutrient profile. In general, cashew milk is more of a challenge to find than almond milk.
Coconut milk has a milky white consistency and is extracted from the flesh of mature coconut fruits. This plant-based milk has a coconut-forward flavor and a watery texture. It’s a favorite in the summer for those who are looking for a tropical flavor twist in their coffee, cooking, or baking.
Other Plant-based Milk
Other plant-based milk alternatives include pea milk, quinoa milk, Brazil nut milk, macadamia nut milk, rice milk, hemp milk, and flax milk. Depending on the consistency and flavor of the dish (or beverage) – there is a vegan milk alternative available for any goal on the market!
Vegan Milk Benefits
These days, there are almost no cost or time barriers to replace animal milk in your diet. The taste, consistency, and use of these non-traditional kinds of milk vary and should be selected depending on the end goal or taste.
Some of the milk alternatives listed above are easy to find on grocery shelves and others may only be found in specialty health food stores.
Most of these dairy-free kinds of milk are also used to create vegan options for cheese, butter, and yogurt products.
In addition to milk alternatives, many vegans utilize tofu in unique ways to add creaminess to various dishes. Tofu is vegan and is a substantial source of protein in a plant-based diet.
Plant-based milk has several benefits when compared to animal milk.
Some Benefits of Plant-based Milk Include:
- Great for slow or sensitive digestive systems
- Most plant-based milk is low in fat
- Plant-based milk does not contain cholesterol
- A healthy combination of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats
- Plant-based milk is rich in vitamins and minerals
Health Benefits of Dairy
Dairy has long been touted as having nutritional benefits, especially for young adults and developing children.
Here are the daily values that one serving (8-ounce glass) of cows’ milk provides:
- Approximately 8 grams of protein: Protein helps to build and repair muscle tissue and assists with other important functions in the body.
- 25% Calcium: Calcium is an important nutrient to build and maintain strong bones and teeth. It also plays a role in blood clotting, muscle contraction, and heartbeat regularization.
- 35% Riboflavin (vitamin B2): Supports overall body growth, cell development and function. Also promotes various metabolic processes.
- 20% Phosphate: Has a major function in forming bones and teeth in addition to affecting how the body uses carbohydrates and fats.
- 15% Vitamin D: A fat-soluble vitamin that promotes the absorption of calcium and phosphorus. Many animal milks is fortified with vitamin D. This vitamin has also been shown to reduce inflammation, help control infections, and is critical for building and keeping bone mass over time.
- 20% Pantothenic Acid (vitamin B5): Helps the human body turn food into basic energy. It also assists with the making and breaking down of fats.
- 8% Potassium: This nutrient regulates total fluid balance and helps to maintain a healthy blood pressure level over time.
- 15% Vitamin A: Promotes good vision and healthy skin cell reproduction and turnover. Vitamin A is also critical for overall immunity.
- 10% Niacin: Assists with proper circulatory functions throughout the body.
But, have you ever considered drinking milk that doesn’t come from animals? In that sense, vegans do drink milk… as long as it’s plant-based.
Vegan Grey Line – What about Ethically Sourced Milk?
For those who don’t see things in black and white, there may be some value in consuming ethically sourced animal products. For example, some vegans may opt to consume ethically sourced animal products that allow animals to live free from cruelty or factory-farming practices. Vegans may opt for organic cows’ milk.
However, at its core, veganism does not promote any cruelty or manipulation of animals for human benefit.
Traditionally, this would include milking or harvesting animal products for consumption. Most vegans don’t consider ethically sourced milk as an option for their diet choices when plant-based dairy alternatives are available.
Do Vegans Miss Milk? Typical Vegan Diet Deficiencies
As with any dietary restriction or choice, a doctor should be consulted early regarding meeting your nutritional needs. Veganism is no different, despite being mostly plant-based. There are some common things that vegan diets often lack.
Vegan diets are lower in overall consumption of these nutrients:
- Protein intake may be lower than meat-eaters
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
- Omega 3s
When compared to many of the dietary benefits from dairy/milk, which (when fortified) is packed with nutrients like vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin B12, it’s challenging to give up something like this in the diet.
However, people on vegan diets do often opt to take a supplementation paired with their food to provide nutrients they may not be receiving in their diet. Vegans may also opt for fortified or plant-based alternatives in their diet.
Final Thoughts on Do Vegans Drink Milk
There is no debate on the question – is milk vegan? It is not.
However, there are so many effective vegan milk substitutes that plant-based alternatives have become popular in vegan and non-vegan pantries alike.
There are many non-vegan consumers who opt for plant-based alternatives to cut out the negative side effects of lactose consumption as well.
Giving up milk (and related products like cheese) can be one of the most difficult hurdles for vegans. But – the choice is simple: align their values with vegan eating habits and way of life.
Today, more than ever, it has become easier to choose plant-based dairy alternatives versus traditional cow’s milk.
Related content: Is oat milk vegan?