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Posted By: Scott Stewart, MSAc., Dipl.Ac., LAc.
Just because you’re in the “health food” section at the supermarket, or a specialty store that sells nothing but “health food”, doesn’t necessarily mean that the food is healthy. There are many health food products that are highly processed, and should be avoided. Non-dairy milk substitutes fall into this category and include: soy milk / drink, coconut milk, rice milk, and almond milk. Most people who switch to these products are trying to eliminate dairy from their diet, because they're allergic to dairy, can't digest dairy products, or for other lifestyle reasons. Many times consumers assume a product is healthy if the label says so, or if it's found in the "health food" section of the store. In fact, a lot of health food products contain the same additives as regular products, and unless the consumer is diligent in doing research on the ingredients, they'll just end up being deceived.
Aside from these non-dairy milk substitutes being highly processed, they contain additives, which can cause inflammatory reactions in the intestinal lining of the gut. The most common additive you will see in these products is called carrageenan. This additive has been shown in both animal studies and in vitro human studies to be pro-inflammatory; and therefore not something a person with Celiac, Crohn's, Ulcerative Colitis, IBS, or any other inflammatory issues relating to the gut would want to consume. Grant it, the amounts of carrageenan are small, but if you drink this on a regular basis as a dairy substitute it could give you problems.
Natural flavoring is another commonly seen ingredient on the product label, which is kind of scary, because this could be anything ranging from ground up bugs to chemicals, or ground up animals that were fed GMO products and given antibiotics. In fact, there really isn’t any difference between “natural” and “artificial” flavoring, especially when it comes to the chemicals. You ingest the same chemicals in either case, it’s just that one is synthetic and the other is natural (which means it costs more).
Some, not all manufacturers use Bisphenol - A (BPA) in there packaging, this is more prevalent in the lining of canned goods and baby products. BPA is a chemical that can cause neurological damage in children, can disrupt the hormone system, cause breast and prostate cancer, and bring on type – 2 diabetes. Even though the FDA banned the use of this chemical in infant formulas and baby bottles, you have to remember that most everything comes from China, which is not bound by our regulatory bodies. Most of the Brands like Silk, So Delicious, Pacific Brand, and Rice / Soy Dream use Aseptic containers that are BPA free.
In short, always read the label on the food you buy, check any ingredients you're not sure about, and always be sure to check the country of origin. If you are someone with gastrointestinal issues these suggestions can save you a lot of pain and discomfort.
There is a simple solution to avoiding the pit falls of these particular dairy milk substitutes, while still reaping the benefits of a dairy free life.
Follow these 2 recipes, so you can make your own coconut milk and almond milk; giving you more control over what you put into your body.