Plant “milks” are liquids that mix ground nuts and water to substitute for cow’s milk. Dairy is one of the most ethically and environmentally problematic food choices you can make. You don’t need milk to survive, nor do you need cheese, ice cream, or yogurt made from dairy. There are hundreds of plant-based alternatives available in every form you need – cheeses, sour cream, heavy cream, ice creams and more.
One of the misconceptions people have is that dairy is the only source of calcium. But it isn’t. There are healthier sources for calcium found in kale, broccoli, leafy green veggies, almonds, etc. And none of them have the kind of side effects we see with dairy products. For example – casein, which encompasses almost 80% percent of all the protein found in cow’s milk, is a major trigger of headaches, including migraines. Casein also causes serious addiction.
When you try plant-based milk, choose one depending on a combination of factors including allergies, taste and your diet. Check for added calcium and vitamin D. More calcium isn’t always better and if you are eating a well-rounded diet, you probably don’t need any extra vitamin D which can raise the risk of kidney stones. Also, look for carrageenan-free plant milk. Most are using gums like algae and locust bean instead.
Not all plant milks add vitamin B-12 but some do. This is more important for vegans and older adults. 10-30 percent of adults over 50 have too little stomach acid to digest their B-12. (Adding Betaine HCl Pepsin can help.) Supplementing with a multivitamin can make sure you are getting all your B vitamins.
Natural occurring potassium can be found in soy, pea, and some oat milks. Almond, cashew, rice, coconut, flax and hemp milks do not have potassium but you can get all you need by eating half a banana a day.
If you are drinking milk for the protein, soy has the most with 7 grams per cup. Most pea protein milks have 8 – 10 grams of protein. Oat and hemp milks have 2 to 4 grams. (Dairy milk has 8 grams.)
Be aware that soy is one of the common eight allergens. It can also trigger unwanted symptoms in people who are soy intolerant or soy sensitive, including bloating, digestive pain, fatigue, headache, and skin reactions. That said, soy milk is the most nutritionally-balanced of the plant-based milk alternatives.
Almonds have a high content of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) that are considered helpful in weight loss and weight management. Unsweetened almond milk can provide as few as 30 calories per cup and just one gram of carbohydrates. Most brands are also fortified with calcium and vitamin D. It’s a great replacement for milk in cereal, smoothies, and coffee for people who get plenty of protein from other sources and are watching calories and carbs.
Rice milk varies widely in its nutrient profile, putting infants at risk for malnutrition. Arsenic is a human carcinogen and can impair learning in children. Rice soaks up arsenic from soil and water more readily than other grains do. (Remember to soak your rice overnight and rinse it well before cooking. Or, if you are pressed for time, rinse rice seven times, or until the water runs clear.)
The richness of coconut milk makes it an ideal dairy replacement for certain recipes, like, soup, cream sauce, pudding, and ice cream. Great for people who enjoy cooking rich dishes but are trying to consume more plant-based meals and less animal fat.
One cup of unsweetened cashew milk is low in calories, typically around 25 calories. Cashew milk does not contain the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein found in a handful of cashews though because all that disappears when the pulp is strained from the milk. Most brands are also fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Like almond milk, cashew milk is a good alternative for those watching calories and carbohydrates who aren’t looking for protein from their milk substitute.
Hemp milk is made from soaking hemp seeds in water and grinding them. One eight-ounce serving has around 100 calories, five grams of sugar and three grams of protein. Hemp isn’t a common allergen and while it’s not the highest in the protein of the plant options, hemp does contain complete protein, meaning it provides all of the amino acids needed for repair and healing of protein tissues in the body. The fat in hemp also includes both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. This is a good option for vegans who are soy intolerant.
There are also a number of milks made from oats. Not all are gluten-free as oats can get contaminated from other grains in fields or processing plants. These milks are higher in natural sugars and have more carbs, less protein (2-4 grams) than soy or pea milks.
A word about conventional dairy. Mother’s milk is for babies and cow’s milk is for calves. If you are still consuming milk, yogurt, butter and cheese produced from conventionally raised cows that are fed a steady stream of antibiotics, your dairy intake is probably playing a role in antibiotic resistance. Conventional dairy can also increase your risk of being overweight and getting cancer.
Those countries that consume the most milk in the world such as USA, Sweden and England have also the highest rates of osteoporosis. China and Japan, where people consume very little dairy they have the lowest rates of osteoporosis in the world.
Despite the hype, cow’s milk actually robs our bones of calcium. Animal proteins produce acid when they’re broken down, and calcium is an acid neutralizer. In order to neutralize and flush out the acids, our bodies have to use the calcium that the milk contains, as well as some from our own stores. So every glass of milk you drink leaches calcium from your bones. That’s why medical study after medical study has found that people who consume the most cow’s milk have significantly higher fracture rates than those who drink little to no milk.
The pasteurization process that most conventional dairy products undergo destroys essential enzymes and probiotics, as well as altering amino acids. Nearly all commercial milk is homogenized, a process that oxidizes fats and creates free radicals. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that are known to weaken the immune system and result in inflammation.
According to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a single glass of pasteurized milk can contain up to twenty different chemicals. We know that growth hormones and antibiotics are regularly fed to cows, but researchers at the University of Jaen in Spain also found traces of numerous drugs such as niflumic acid, mefenamic acid, flunixin, diclofenac, ketoprofen, and ibuprofen, which are commonly used as painkillers for the animals.
The oxidized fats present in homogenized milk pass through your gut wall, carrying hormones, steroids, drugs and all these compounds throughout your body.
Also present in milk from Holstein cows is a relatively recent genetic mutation which produces a protein called A1 beta-casein. It is more inflammatory to the body than gluten. A1 beta-casein releases beta-casomophin-7, an opioid with a structure similar to that of morphine that’s been linked to autism and schizophrenia. This protein might also create a shortage of antioxidants in the brain.
Pistachios are the seeds of the pistachio tree. They’re usually green and slightly sweet. They’re called nuts, but botanically pistachios are seeds. The kernels can have different colors, ranging from yellow to shades of green. They’re usually about an inch long and half an inch in diameter.
Pistachios have been consumed by humans for about 9,000 years and are one of two nuts (the other is the almond) mentioned in the Bible. Interestingly, pistachios are botanically related to the mango and cashew nut (so if you have an allergy to one, you may be allergic to the others). In Iran, which is one of the world’s largest pistachio producers, the pistachio is called the “smiling nut,” and in China, it’s referred to as the “happy nut,” due to the nut’s open-mouthed appearance when the shell is cracked.
Most nuts like pistachios contain large amounts of protein relative to their size. A 1-ounce serving of these nuts, approximately 50 pistachio kernels, contains 6 grams of protein.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 1 ounce or approximately 49 kernels of unroasted nuts contain:
- Calories: 159
- Protein: 5.72 grams
- Fat: 12.85 g
- Carbohydrates: 7.70 g
- Fiber: 3.00 g
- Sugars: 2.17 g
- Magnesium: 34 milligrams (mg)
- Potassium: 291 mg
- Phosphorus: 139 mg
- Vitamin B-6: 0.482 mg
- Thiamin: 0.247 mg
Vitamin B6 has many health benefits. Failure to get enough vitamin B6 has been associated with elevated risk of cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and cognitive dysfunction. Getting vitamin B6 into your diet may improve your cardiovascular health and keep your brain sharp. Women need 1.5 mg of vitamin B6 per day, while men need 2 mg per day. A 1-ounce serving of pistachios contains 0.4 mg.
Protein accounts for approximately 21 percent of the total weight of the nut, making it a good source for vegetarians and vegans. Pistachios also have a higher ratio of essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein, when compared with other nuts, including almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts.
Pistachios are a high-fat food, but that is not a bad thing. Per serving, pistachios contain 13 total grams of fat. However, only 2 grams of fat are saturated fats, the unhealthy fats that are associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease. The rest of the fats are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which actually protect the heart.
This includes omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat that is good for cholesterol control. Pistachios contain alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), a beneficial type of omega-3 fatty acid that can also be converted to DHA and EPA, the two other forms of omega-3s that are only found in animal sources.
Pistachios are an excellent source of antioxidants, including lutein, beta-carotene, and gamma-tocopherol. Beta-carotene serves as a precursor to vitamin A, while gamma-tocopherol is used as a precursor to vitamin E. Both vitamin A and vitamin E have very high antioxidant activity. In a randomized study of the effects of pistachios, researchers found that incorporating these nuts into the diet was associated with lower levels of LDL cholesterol.
Pistachios have a low glycemic index, so they do not cause a sharp rise in blood sugar after eating them. In a small study of 10 people, eating pistachios reduced high blood sugar when eaten with a carbohydrate-rich meal, such as white bread. The researchers suggest that this is one of the ways that nuts lower the risk of diabetes.
For people with diabetes, another study suggests that eating pistachios as a snack is beneficial for blood sugar levels, blood pressure, obesity, and inflammation markers.
Although raw pistachios don’t have much sodium (1 cup has about 1 milligram), that’s not true for roasted pistachios, which are often salted. A cup of dry roasted pistachios with salt has 526 milligrams of sodium. Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
How to Buy
When purchasing the nuts in their shells, look for blemish-free, ivory-colored shells that are split open at one end. Avoid pistachios that are cracked beyond their natural opening. Unopened shells are an indicator of immaturity. The kernel, or nutmeat, should be yellow to dark green in color. The greener the nutmeat, the better the flavor.
Unshelled and shelled pistachios are available in bags year-round in many forms, including raw, roasted, salted, unsalted, and seasoned. For cooking purposes, it is best to choose pistachios that have not been dyed either green or red, which is often done to cover up blemishes. (Luckily for us in the US, almost all domestically grown pistachios are sold without dye.)
Once you remove the shell, you’ll find the nut covered in a thin, edible paper that can be easily removed from the nutmeats by blanching, if desired. After parboiling, drain and slightly cool the pistachios before slipping off the skins.
How to Store
Since the shell splits upon ripening to expose the nutmeat, pistachios have a limited shelf life. If keeping the nuts for just a few days, you can place them in resealable bags and store in the pantry. For a longer storage period, place pistachios in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer. Unshelled nuts may be stored for three months in the refrigerator or up to one year in the freezer. To prevent condensation when thawing, place the nuts in an open bowl. Shelled pistachios can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three months but are not good candidates for freezing.
To refresh pistachios that have lost their crunch, toast them in a 200 F oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
How to Cook
Toss pistachios on a salad or in a smoothie or on oatmeal.
The following flavors are among the most compatible with pistachios:
- Citrus: orange, blood orange, lemon, Meyer lemon
- Candied orange
- Orange blossom water and rose water
- Wildflower or orange blossom honey
- Dried fruits: dates, apricots, raisins
- Spices: saffron, cardamom, clove, sea salt, pink peppercorns
Pistachio Nut Cheese
Nest and Glow
- 1 cup Pistachio Nuts, shelled
- ½ cup Nutritional Yeast
- 1 tbsp Maple syrup
- 1 tbsp Agar agar powder
- 2 cloves of Garlic
- ½ Lemon juiced
- 1 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
- 1½ cups Water
- 2 pinches of Salt
- Soak the pistachio nuts in water with a pinch of salt for an hour or overnight.
- Place half the water and everything else apart from the agar agar into a blender.
- Blend nut mixture until smooth in a powerful blender.
- In a pan put in the remaining half of the water and the agar agar powder.
- Simmer for 5 mins stirring constantly. Make sure no lumps of agar agar form at the bottom.
- Take off the heat and stir in the pistachio mixture until combined.
- Pour nut cheese mixture into a mold that is lined with greaseproof paper and then chill for 2 hours.
- Enjoy Pistachio Cheese within 3 days and keep chilled.
Azzouz, A., Jurado-Sánchez, B., Souhail, B., Ballesteros, E., "Simultaneous determination of 20 pharmacologically active substances in cow's milk, goat's milk, and human breast milk by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry." J Agric Food Chem. 2011, May 11; 59(9):5125-32. doe: 10.1021/jf200364w. Epub 2011 Apr 15.
Harkinson, J. "You're drinking the wrong kind of milk," Mother Jones, 2014, Mar 12. www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/03/a1-milk-a2-milk-america.
Axe, J., Eat Dirt, 2016, Harper Collins, NY