If you’ve ever experienced that embarrassing ballooning midline or that nasty stabbing through your tummy that make you want to double over during your morning coffee, then you may have experienced a reaction to the dairy that you’ve just ingested. But are the alternatives any safer?
I’ve definitely felt that bloating – and it wasn’t until I decided to try an alternative to dairy that I noticed those symptoms completely disappear.
Intolerances are common these days – whether due to the modifications to the foods that are grown, our lifestyle and environment, or simply how our genes react to what we feed them. It’s great to know that technology has finally caught up with our needs and we can now find out which foods will react well with our genes direct from the palm of our hands! Luckily for people who are a little sensitive, there are alternatives to that scrumptious creamy texture of dairy that is popular in our foods today..
But, while finding out what is not good for us is great, when we replace one thing that we want with something else, there are always other factors to consider.
We see commercial nut or grain milks lining the supermarket shelves – almond, coconut, oat, rice, hempseed, the list goes on. And nut milks can be a great alternative. Nut milk is made by crushing nuts into a fine powder that gets blended with water and then strained into a final milky liquid. But looking at the labels on the ‘long-life’ cartons gets me thinking – surely there should only be 2 ingredients – the ‘nut’ and the water…? Not so. I’ll generally find 4-5 ingredients on the carton, including xanthan or guar gum, carrageenan, sugar and added flavors. and, as I know the convenience of ready-made ‘nut’ milk is a luxury that sometimes I just want to take advantage of, I also need to realise what I’m putting into my body.
Nasties to look out for!
- A LOT of sugar can be added to those tasty alternatives – especially the flavored ones. This is especially true of all those nut milks. Some flavoured nut milks can have up to 4 teaspoons of sugar per serving. The FDA recommends no more than 12.5 teaspoons per day (as reported by The New York Times). So having a nice glass of what is supposed to be a good dairy alternative can account for about 30% of your recommended daily sugar intake.
- Watch out for additives! Especially emulsifiers like carrageenan (E407). An emulsifier is an additive which allows the combination of two substances which wouldn’t usually mix. Carrageenan (E407) is one such additive and is a seaweed extract. It’s problematic because it is not digestible and has no nutritional value. It can be destructive to the digestive system and even cause inflammation, especially when consumed on a regular basis.1-4
- Many contain fillers made of various gums that act like thickeners and emulsifiers like gellan gum, guar gum, and xanthan gum. These fillers are used as thickening agents to, for example, give non-dairy cheese a more cheese-like texture, therefore being a good indicator of a lower quality product that can contain very few nuts in the milk by being artificially thickened. Some gums can also be more problematic than others:
Although xanthan gum is quite safe as a food additive, studies have shown that it can increase the amount of water in the intestines and the amount of sugar that stays in the intestines, resulting in laxative effects and also potentially causing bloating and gas5, 6. Also, it can be made from corn, wheat or soy so anyone with an allergy to one of these may need to read labels carefully to avoid an allergic reaction.
Guar gum is relatively natural as an additive, since it comes from the guar bean. It has been shown to have positive therapeutic effects on diabetics by lowering blood sugar7-10, but for people suffering from hypoglycemia, this can be a problem. It’s also known to cause gas, which can cause a lot of discomfort in those suffering from gastrointestinal problems.
Locust bean gum is made from the seeds of the carob tree and seems to have cholesterol and blood glucose lowering properties but, just like guar gum, can cause uncomfortable gas and bloating11, 12, especially in people who have gastrointestinal issues.
Gellan gum can cause fermentation by the microflora in the intestines, resulting in bloating and gas, loose stools or even diarrhea13.
While I’m not saying that we should never go ahead and take the convenient option, because let’s face it, sometimes we just don’t have the time to make a good old almond milk from scratch!
I just want to be sure that you know what you’re ingesting.
While the time factor (or remembering the soak the nuts) may be one detrimental aspect of making your own nut or grain milks, there are a few great reasons why it can be a marvellous practice:
- You know exactly what is going into your body. You can choose the quality of the nuts, you choose the water, and you know exactly what is goes into your system. Really important for those with sensitivities, but isn’t it just nice to know what you are actually using to build your body?
- Choose the ingredients that are perfect for you. Having ingredients like grains and nuts on hand means that you are more flexible in taking care of your body’s needs. Thankfully, grains and nuts store well and, as our bodies often require a variety in the nutrients we intake, it means that we can be versatile with what we ingest to maintain our health as well as we can.
- It can be very cost effective. It takes around 1 cup of almonds to make 2-3 flavourful, creamy cups of almond milk and fewer almonds if you want a less creamy texture. So even buying raw, organic almonds can be more economical (and more satisfying) than purchasing the bland commercial option.
Making positive changes to your health is always to be encouraged. If, for you, this means cutting out dairy then there are certainly plenty of alternatives available. However, just because something is dairy-free does not automatically mean that it is better for you.
The fact is that we are all different and have varying dietary needs. Just because almond milk is this season’s trend, doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily healthy for your body. When you find out what is best for your body, at this stage of your life, and as you change into the future, you will be rewarded with the blessing of health. It’s all about what your body needs, not what the trend is, so find out what’s right for you using ShaeTM, and take your health into your own hands. Your body will thank you for it.
- Watson, Duika Burges. “Public health and carrageenan regulation: a review and analysis.” Journal of applied phycology 20.5 (2008): 505-513.
Tobacman, Joanne K. “Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments.” Environmental health perspectives 109.10 (2001): 983.
Choi, Hye Jin, et al. “Pro-inflammatory NF-κB and early growth response gene 1 regulate epithelial barrier disruption by food additive carrageenan in human intestinal epithelial cells.” Toxicology letters 211.3 (2012): 289-295.
Bhattacharyya, Sumit, et al. “Carrageenan induces cell cycle arrest in human intestinal epithelial cells in vitro.” The Journal of nutrition 138.3 (2008): 469-475
Woodard, G., et al. “Xanthan gum: safety evaluation by two-year feeding studies in rats and dogs and a three-generation reproduction study in rats.” Toxicology and applied pharmacology 24.1 (1973): 30-36.
Trout, David L., Robert O. Ryan, and Mary C. Bickard. “The amount and distribution of water, dry matter, and sugars in the digestive tract of rats fed xanthan gum.” Experimental Biology and Medicine 172.3 (1983): 340-345.
Aro, A., et al. “Improved diabetic control and hypocholesterolaemic effect induced by long-term dietary supplementation with guar gum in type 2 (insulin-independent) diabetes.” Diabetologia 21.1 (1981): 29-33.
Butt, Masood Sadiq, et al. “Guar gum: a miracle therapy for hypercholesterolemia, hyperglycemia and obesity.” Critical reviews in food science and nutrition 47.4 (2007): 389-396.
Dall’Alba, Valesca, et al. “Improvement of the metabolic syndrome profile by soluble fibre–guar gum–in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomised clinical trial.” British Journal of Nutrition 110.09 (2013): 1601-1610.
Fernández-Bañares, Fernando. “Nutritional care of the patient with constipation.” Best Practice & Research Clinical Gastroenterology 20.3 (2006): 575-587.
Zavoral, James H., et al. “The hypolipidemic effect of locust bean gum food products in familial hypercholesterolemic adults and children.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 38.2 (1983): 285-294.
Dionísio, Marita, and Ana Grenha. “Locust bean gum: exploring its potential for biopharmaceutical applications.” Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences 4.3 (2012): 175.
Izydorczyk, Marta, Steve W. Cui, and Qi Wang. “Polysaccharide gums: structures, functional properties, and applications.” Food carbohydrates: Chemistry, physical properties, and applications (2005): 293-299.