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Cow’s milk is considered a nutritious beverage, providing balanced macronutrients such as fat, proteins, and carbohydrates and micronutrients like calcium, selenium, riboflavin, vitamin B12, and vitamin B5. But dairy products – including milk – are also under increased scrutiny because they contain very high concentrations of two pro-inflammatory substances: antigens (substances that trigger inflammation) and saturated fats. In addition, dairy allergies, lactose intolerance, and environmental concerns are raising concerns about the use of cow’s milk. As a result, plant-based milk has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years, taking its place as an excellent alternative to cow’s milk.
Many plant-based milk alternatives are highly nutritious and offer a range of health benefits, as well as environmental advantages over animal milk in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and land and water use. Can these plant-based milk substitutes benefit people with autoimmune Hashimoto’s disease and hypothyroidism? Ahead, a look at the variety of plant milks, their pros and cons, and specific points of interest for people with Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism.
Plant-based milk has become increasingly popular as more people adopt a plant-based lifestyle or look for alternatives to traditional dairy products. Plant milk offers a variety of flavors and options to choose from, and they also come with a host of health benefits. If you’re considering making the switch, here are some of the health benefits of plant milk that might convince you to give it a try.
Lactose-free: One of the most significant advantages of all types of plant milk is that it is lactose-free. This is great news for individuals who are lactose intolerant or have difficulty digesting lactose, which is the sugar found in cow’s milk.
Lower in calories: Plant milk is generally lower in calories compared to cow’s milk. For example, a cup of almond milk contains approximately 30-40 calories, while the same amount of skim cow’s milk has around 90 calories. This makes plant milk an option for individuals watching their calorie intake or trying to lose weight.
Nutrient-rich: Different types of plant milk have many inherent nutrients and are also frequently fortified with essential nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 to ensure that they provide a similar nutritional profile to cow’s milk. This makes them a suitable alternative for individuals following a vegetarian or vegan diet and wanting to ensure they are getting all the necessary nutrients.
Heart-healthy: Various types of plant milk, like almond milk and soy milk, are known to be heart-healthy. They are naturally low in saturated fat and cholesterol, which can be beneficial for maintaining heart health. Additionally, some plant milk contains healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Environmentally friendly: Opting for plant milk instead of cow’s milk can positively impact the environment. Raising animals for dairy production involves a significant amount of resources and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. By choosing plant milk, you can usually reduce your carbon footprint and help conserve natural resources.
Coconut milk is a rich, creamy, flavor-filled liquid derived from the grated flesh of coconuts. It is a staple ingredient in many cuisines, including Thai and other Southeast Asian cuisines, as well as in Hawaii, India, and certain South American and Caribbean countries. Coconut milk has a thick consistency and texture due to its high oil content, most of which is saturated fat.
Don’t confuse coconut milk with coconut water, naturally found in unripe green coconuts. Unlike coconut water, the milk does not occur naturally. Instead, solid coconut flesh is mixed with water to make coconut milk, which is about 50% water.
- Coconut milk is rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), a type of fat that may help boost metabolism. MCTs can stimulate energy through a process called thermogenesis, which can reduce body weight and the buildup of fat
- Coconut milk may help improve digestion
- Coconut milk is very low in protein
- Coconut milk may not be suitable for the small percentage of the population that is allergic to coconuts.
Also, it’s important to know that the production of coconut milk is associated with worker exploitation and deforestation of the tropical areas where coconuts are harvested. (7)
Cashew milk is a popular dairy-free alternative made from whole cashews and water. It offers a creamy, rich consistency and is loaded with vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and other beneficial plant compounds.
- Cashew milk is high in vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats, including potassium, vitamin K, copper, and magnesium. It’s also often fortified with vitamin D and calcium.
- Cashew milk is lower in calories compared to cow’s milk, making it a suitable option for those on reduced-calorie diets.
- Cashew milk has a creamy consistency, making it a great dairy-free alternative for thickening and adding richness to recipes and beverages
- Cashew milk can be used as a substitute for cow’s milk in various recipes, including baked goods, smoothies, and hot beverages
- Cashew milk is very low in protein, so it’s not the best choice if you want to increase your protein intake
- Cashews contain goitrogenic compounds that can slow down the thyroid. While not as potent as soy and cruciferous vegetables, consuming larger quantities of peanut milk could conceivably negatively impact thyroid function
- Cashew milk is not suitable for people with tree nut allergies
Almond milk is a plant-based milk substitute made from almonds – a tree nut – and water. Almond milk is high in healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), vitamin E, and manganese.
- Almond milk is low in calories
- Almond milk vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage
- Almond milk is low in protein
- Almond milk may not be suitable for people with tree nut allergies
- Some brands of almond milk contain added sugars
From an environmental standpoint, almond milk poses problems. Almonds require a lot of water to grow, and 130 pints of water are needed to produce a single glass of almond milk.
Rice milk is a plant-based milk alternative made from rice and water.
- Rice Milk is low in fat
- Rice milk is low in protein
- Rice milk usually contains more sugar than dairy milk
- Rice milk may contain high levels of arsenic
Also, environmentally, rice milk produces more greenhouse gases than any other non-dairy milk.
Hazelnut milk is a plant-based milk alternative with a creamy consistency, made from hazelnuts – a type of tree nut – and water.
- Hazelnut milk is high in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E
- Hazelnut milk is lower in calories compared to cow’s milk
Hazelnut farming is also a positive for the environment, as it can help reduce greenhouse effects. Hazelnut trees are pollinated by the wind, thus causing no strain on bees, and hazelnut trees can also grow in colder climates.
- Hazelnut milk is low in protein and may not be the best choice for those looking to increase their protein intake
- Hazelnut milk may not be suitable for people with tree nut allergies.
Hemp milk is a plant-based alternative made from whole hemp seeds and water. It is known for its rich nutritional profile, including healthy fats and minerals.
- Hemp milk contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential for good health
- Hemp milk has anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce inflammation in the body
- Hemp milk can be a good option for those with nut or soy allergies
- Hemp milk is low in protein
Flax milk is a plant-based, dairy-free alternative made from water and flax seeds.
- Flax milk is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart and brain health
- Flax milk contains monounsaturated fats, which are considered healthy fats
- Flax milk is lower in calories compared to cow’s milk
- Flax milk is low in protein
- Flax milk is not suitable for individuals with flaxseed allergies, as it could trigger an allergic reaction
Of particular interest, flax seeds contain goitrogenic compounds that can slow down the thyroid. While not as potent as soy and cruciferous vegetables, consumption of larger quantities of peanut milk could conceivably have a negative impact on thyroid function.
Soy milk is a plant-based drink made from soaking and grinding soybeans, boiling the mixture, and filtering out the remaining particulates. Soy milk is very rich in proteins and fat.
- Soy milk is the most nutritionally balanced of the plant-based milk alternatives
- Soy milk contains the most protein and tied for the most calcium per serving among non-dairy alternatives
- Soy milk may help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease
- Soy milk contains goitrogens. The goitrogens in soy milk have been a topic of debate regarding their potential impact on thyroid health, particularly in individuals with compromised thyroid function or inadequate iodine intake. Generally, the goitrogens in soy can interfere with the uptake of iodine in the thyroid and exacerbate iodine deficiency. This interference disrupts the production of thyroid hormones and can sometimes trigger or worsen autoimmune Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism. For more information, read Should You Eat Soy If You’re Hypothyroid?
- Soy milk may not be suitable for those with soy allergies
- Many people are not fans of the taste of soy milk
- In some people, soy milk can cause gas, intestinal distress, and flatulence
From an environmental standpoint, soy is generally sustainably produced, although portions of the Amazonian rainforest have been burned to make way for soy farms.
Oat milk is a plant-based milk alternative made from whole oat grains and water. Oat milk contains proteins, phytochemicals, and nutritionally, can potentially help reduce glucose blood levels and bad cholesterol levels.
- Oat milk is high in fiber
- Oat milk contains beta-glucans, a type of soluble fiber that may help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease
From an environmental perspective, oats are grown in cooler climates and are not associated with deforestation.
- Oat milk is low in protein
- Some brands contain added sugars
Peanut milk is a plant-based milk alternative with a creamy texture made from peanuts and water.
- Peanut milk is a good source of protein, minerals, vitamin E, and magnesium.
- Creamy texture: Peanut milk has a creamy consistency, making it a suitable dairy milk alternative for adding richness to recipes and beverages
- Peanuts are a common allergen, and individuals with peanut allergies should avoid peanut milk
- Peanut milk is higher in calories compared to cow’s milk
- Peanut milk has a strong taste that not everyone prefers
Most importantly for thyroid patients, peanuts contain goitrogenic compounds that can slow down the thyroid. While not as potent as soy and cruciferous vegetables, consumption of larger quantities of peanut milk could conceivably have a negative impact on thyroid function.
Sesame milk is a plant-based milk alternative made from sesame seeds and water.
- Sesame milk is rich in nutrients and is a good source of calcium, healthy fats, and other essential nutrients
- Sesame milk contains fiber, which is necessary for weight loss, prevention of over-eating, and slowing down digestion
Environmentally, sesame milk is more sustainable to make than almond or oat milk
- Sesame milk may cause bloating and constipation due to its fiber content.
- Sesame milk’s nutty taste doesn’t appeal to everyone
Pea milk is a plant-based alternative made from yellow field peas milled into flour. The protein is separated from the fiber and starch, which gives it its white color. Then the protein is purified and blended with water and other ingredients.
- Pea milk is high in protein
- Pea milk contains all nine essential amino acids
- Pea milk is not widely available in stores
- Some brands of pea milk may contain added sugars
Lupin milk is a plant-based milk alternative made from the sweet lupin bean. It has a creamy texture and a slightly sweet taste.
- Lupin milk is high in protein and essential amino acids
- Lupin milk is a good source of dietary fiber
- Lupin milk is low in fat.
- Some people don’t like the sweet taste of lupin milk
- Lupin milk can trigger sensitivities in people with legume allergies
- Some people experience gas, bloating, and stomach pain when consuming lupin in larger amounts
Tigernut milk is a dairy-free alternative made from tigernuts, which are actually tubers and not nuts. Tigernut milk is naturally sweet and has a creamy texture.
- Tigernut milk is a good source of phosphorus and potassium and is rich in vitamins E and C, antioxidants that help combat oxidative stress
- Tigernut milk has a naturally creamy texture, similar to almond milk, without the need for additives like carrageenan or guar gum
- Tigernuts are not nuts but tubers, making tigernut milk a suitable option for individuals with nut allergies
- Tigernut milk contains prebiotic-resistant starch, which can create a texture that doesn’t easily blend. This may be a disadvantage for some individuals who prefer a smoother consistency.
- Tigernut milk may cause digestive problems for some individuals if consumed in large quantities or at night
If you have autoimmune Hashimoto’s, you may consider switching to plant milk as part of a dairy-free diet. Eliminating dairy products is a common recommendation for people with autoimmune diseases, including Hashimoto’s disease. There are a number of reasons why removing milk and dairy products could benefit people with an autoimmune condition.
- Dairy sensitivity: Some research suggests that dairy sensitivity may trigger an autoimmune response
- Inflammatory triggers: Dairy products may be pro-inflammatory and contribute to autoimmune disease development
- Food sensitivities: People with autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s are more likely to have food sensitivities, including allergies to dairy products
- AIP diet: The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet, which is often recommended for people with Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune diseases, eliminates dairy along with other potentially inflammatory foods
- Digestive health: Dairy products can be difficult to digest for some people, especially those with autoimmune diseases
For people with Hashimoto’s disease, eliminating cow’s milk and dairy products from the diet may help reduce inflammation, improve symptoms, identify food sensitivities, and improve digestive health.
If you’re hypothyroid (without autoimmune Hashimoto’s), switching to plant milk can still have health benefits. Specifically, eliminating milk and milk products:
- may aid in weight loss because many dairy products contain high amounts of sugar and saturated fat
- can aid digestion and reduce bloating, gas, and cramps
- may lead to clearer skin
- reduces exposure to antibiotics and hormones present in many dairy products
- can reduce inflammation
If you want to use plant milk, the choice of type depends on your preferences and dietary needs. It is essential to read labels carefully and choose brands that do not contain added sugars or other unwanted ingredients.
Also, various store-bought brands of plant milk vary regarding added vitamins and minerals, so it’s important to check the label for fortification levels.
One thing to keep in mind about switching from cow’s milk to plant milk is your iodine intake. Cow’s milk is a rich source of iodine, while most plant milk contains little to no iodine. People who are especially sensitive to iodine may find that the reduced intake after switching to plant milk is a benefit. But if you are already at the low end of the range for iodine and eliminating milk and dairy products, you may be at risk of low levels of iodine. If that occurs, you might need to supplement with iodine to ensure adequate intake. Talk with your healthcare provider about how best to ensure that you have optimal iodine levels. You may also want to read Paloma Health’s Iodine Guide for more information.
If you have questions about your diet, consider consulting with one of Paloma’s nutrition experts to help finetune your diet for thyroid and immune health. And for your thyroid care, Paloma’s comprehensive and holistic approach to Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism care is one of the best ways to help ensure optimal wellness. Our thyroid-savvy providers know how best to address autoimmunity and hypothyroidism.