How to Make Almond Milk a guest post by Devon Arndt

Minnesotans sure do love their milk! Not only is the state of Minnesota the seventh largest producer of milk, it is also one of the largest consumers. In fact, we love milk so much that we named it our official state beverage in the 1980s.

As a young child, I always drank my obligatory glass of milk each day, preferably with a chocolate chip cookie or two on the side. This continued for many years until I discovered that I was lactose intolerant. Although lactose intolerance is a fairly common digestive disease, being dairy-free in a state of milk lovers isn’t always easy. Then, I discovered dairy-free milk.

No more crying over cow’s milk

Since I’ve been dairy-free by default for more than 12 years, I have had the opportunity to sample the majority of the milk alternatives on the market. Although soy milk is one of the most commonly sold and consumed alternatives, almond, cashew, coconut, and hemp milk are my favorites.

Despite the fact that the demand for dairy-free milk is increasing, many supermarkets don’t routinely stock it. Furthermore, many of the dairy-free milks they do offer are often laden with sugar and other not-so-natural additives. Fortunately, making your own dairy-free milk is easier than you may realize.

Got milk? How to make almond milk

Ingredients

  • 1 cup raw almonds, preferably organic
  • 2 cups water, plus more for soaking
  • Sweeteners like dates, honey, or maple syrup, to taste, optional
  • Flavor enhancers like cacao, almond extract, vanilla beans, sea salt, etc.., to taste, optional

Equipment

  • Bowls
  • Strainer
  • Measuring cup
  • Blender – I use a Vitamix but most high-powered blenders will work
  • Cheese cloth

Instructions

1. Soak the almonds for 8-10 hours. Place the almonds in a bowl and cover with about an inch of water. The almonds will increase in size.

2. Drain and rinse the almonds. Drain the almonds, discarding the soaking water. Rinse almonds thoroughly under cool running water.

3. Combine the almonds and water in a blender. Place the almonds in the blender and cover with 2 cups of fresh water.

4. Blend at the highest speed for 2 minutes. Pulse the blender a few times to break up the almonds then blend continuously for two minutes. The almonds should be broken down into a very fine pulp and the water should be white and opaque. Just like milk.

5. Strain the almonds. Line a bowl or strainer with the opened cheese cloth. Pour the almond mixture into the bowl or strainer.

6. Press all the almond milk from the almond pulp. Gather the cheese cloth around the almond pulp and twist close. Squeeze and press with clean hands to extract as much almond milk as possible. You should get about 2 cups. Save the leftover pulp! You can dry it and use it to make tasty dairy-free treats later.

7. Sweeten to taste. Taste the almond milk, and if a sweeter drink is desired, add sweetener to taste. About 2 tablespoons of honey or maple syrup or 3-4 dates should be sufficient but it’s ultimately up to you.

8. Add flavor enhancers to taste. My favorite flavor combination includes vanilla beans (or vanilla bean powder), dates, and sea salt. Of course, a glass of chocolate almond milk is pretty awesome too!

9. Refrigerate the almond milk. Store the almond milk in sealed containers in the fridge for up to two days.

10. Enjoy! Pour yourself a tall glass of homemade almond milk. If you’re feeling indulgent, dunk a dairy-free cookie or two in the milk.

Feeling ambitious? Check out these blogs for more dairy-free milk recipes!

  • Tasty Yummies –Now you can make cashew, hazelnut, and pistachio milk too
  • Serious Eats – Not nuts for nuts? Try making rice milk
  • Healthful Pursuit – Transport yourself to an exotic location by making coconut milk
  • Bonus! Detoxinista – Raw cookie dough bites made from the leftover almond pulp

The Trouble With Soy

Soy is everywhere nowadays. For those that are just dairy free as well as those that are vegan it can be an easy, convenient substitute for milk, cheese, yogurt, and meat. As tasty as some of these soy products are however, I choose to limit my own use of them for a variety of reasons that include not only my own health but for the health of the environment.

The media often touts the low incidence of breast and prostate cancer in Asia, particularly Japan and China. Crediting traditional diets that include fermented soy products such as miso, tempeh, natto, and soy sauce as a factor in the health and longevity in the people in these cultures. The fermenting of soy creates probiotics, the good bacteria that our bodies require for healthy digestion and overall well being. It should also be noted that most Asian cultures that consume fermented soy daily, do so in small amounts, usually 10 grams or less a day.

Americans, on the other hand, mostly consume soy in processed foods such as: soy powders, soy chips, soy bars, soy supplements, soy milk, and soy cheeses. But those are obvious; you may also find soy in canned tuna, salad dressings, soup, cooking oils, mayonnaise, sauces, frozen dinners, baby food, and breakfast foods.

Why is processed soy so bad, and why should I avoid it?

Found in soy, phytoestrogens are a group of chemicals that can mimic estrogen. While estrogen is a necessary hormone for the reproductive health in both men and women, it is also plays a part in the health of our bones, and heart. So now you are thinking, “Pass the soy, I need more Estrogen!” Not so fast, put down that glass of soymilk and proceed with caution.

While estrogen is necessary to our overall health, like anything, too much of it may have a negative impact. There is some evidence that excess estrogen (or Phytoestrogens) may factor in hormone driven cancers such as breast, or prostate. Excess estrogen in the body may also negatively affect fertility, thyroid, digestive health, as well as your mood. With this in mind you may want to be more cautious when sprinkling soy cheese on your nachos.

While I don’t think you must completely avoid all soy-based dairy substitutes, I do feel it is important to be an informed consumer. As with any food, moderation is the key, and unfortunately unfermented soy is not only in all the dairy substitute products I listed above, it is also lurking in many of our most cherished processed foods.

When you are reading your food label look for soy protein concentrate, soy isolate, or isolated soy protein as these are unfermented processed soy products that bear little resemblance to the healthful soy being consumed by the Asians we are attempting to emulate.

 

 

 

Does Your Milk Have a Little Something Extra?

While an allergy made deciding to remove dairy from my diet a relatively easy one, there are those that make this choice for different reasons. It may be that you have decided that a vegan lifestyle will be beneficial for your health. Or you have decided that ethically you can no longer condone and support the feedlot farming industries that supply the majority of dairy and beef products in the United States.

Modern milk production has resulted in milk that is very different than the milk our ancestors drank only century ago.

The introduction of rbGH (a synthetic growth hormone) to increase dairy production has been controversial and many companies, such as Ben & Jerry’s, go out of there way to ensure they do no use milk from cows injected with rbGH.

Estrogen in elevated amounts has also been found to be present in the milk from the typical US dairy cow. This is a troubling development, especially in a society that consumes dairy multiple times a day in huge variety of products.

Free-range cows that are raised naturally are milked for about six months after they have given birth. Compare that to the American cow that is milked for ten months a year. This artificially long milking time is made possible by artificially impregnating the cow while she is still producing milk from her last pregnancy.

Pregnant cows produce milk that has far higher levels of estrogen than their non-pregnant sisters. The closer they are to delivering, the higher the estrogen. One study suggests 33 times higher!

Why does this matter? Increased estrogen levels have been linked to increases in cancer rates in men and women. Breast cancer has been linked to estrogen imbalance, but there is also research showing a relationship between increased estrogen from dairy and prostate cancer.

The modern farmer is keeping his dairy cows artificially and almost perpetually pregnant in order to massively increase milk production levels and, he hopes, his profits. Not only is this practice distasteful if you have any sympathy at all for the cow and its wellbeing, but the added risk to our own health is not something to be ignored.

Consumers of dairy products must weight these risks and educate themselves on what they are truly putting into their bodies. Those of us that have chosen a dairy free lifestyle must also advocate not only for the health of our friends and family but also for more humane practices in farming.

Sources:

Mother Jones

Harvard University Gazette

My Top 5 Dairy Free Treats

I’m a snacker. I don’t really enjoy big meals with course after course coming and going from the table. You are much more likely to find me grabbing something quick and easy out of the refrigerator or pantry and eating it as I go. This was probably why I found changing my snacking habits much more difficult than changing my cooking and mealtime choices. I’ve learned to keep prepared fruits and vegetables ready for the grab-and-go I like to do but sometimes I need (or want) something that isn’t strictly healthy. Ice cream, candy bars, Doritos, and snack cakes are no longer an option. But this doesn’t mean I can’t have any guilty pleasures. On the contrary, here are my top five, not necessarily good for you, dairy free treats. Because sometimes you need to indulge just a little.

1. So Delicious Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl Coconut Milk Dairy Free Frozen Dessert

Seriously this stuff is so good you will have to hide it from the rest of your family. I know you thought you would never be able to have ice cream again, and while a trip to the Dairy Queen may not be a good option, there are more and more dairy free frozen desserts entering the market. This one happens to be my favorite substitute for my former go to ice cream flavor.

WARNING: Do not eat straight out of the container! Before you know it you will have consumed the entire pint. It might be good for your dairy free life but calories do still count.

2. Lara Bars

So many flavors, so many choices, these all-natural, vegan bars made from unsweetened fruit, nuts and spices are a great alternative to those protein bars you used to eat. You may be put off by the look of an unwrapped Lara Bar, they aren’t pretty, but give them a try anyway. Densely packed with fruit and nuts they deliver big on flavor, with none of the preservatives and fillers that are in many popular protein bars.

My go to flavor is Peanut Butter Cookie, but my favorite is Cherry Pie which is, unfortunately, difficult to find in my area.

Update: I was able to purchase a box of 16 Cherry Pie on Amazon! For less than they would cost in a store. This is a big deal, I love these bars and will be waiting for the mailman on delivery day.

3. Marshmallow Crème

I know what you are thinking, but don’t judge, sometimes you just need to indulge your inner child, and mine likes to spoon this stuff right out of the jar. The straight up sugary, sweet, sticky yet creamy goodness of this brings me right back to the best part of helping Mom bake when I was a kid: Sneaking tastes and spoonfuls when she wasn’t looking.

If you are more of a traditional marshmallow fan, you are in luck, as marshmallows are also dairy free. Which means if you use a good dairy free dark chocolate, you can still have that campfire staple, the S’More!

For the vegan readers, I regret to inform you that Marshmallow Creme and marshmallows are generally made with gelatin, an animal product. But if you wish to make your own I found this marshmallow cream recipe that looks easy to make and delicious.

4. Edy’s Outshine fruit bars

This is the more grownup, healthier version of that summer staple, the popsicle. With no high fructose corn syrup, and all natural ingredients, you can eat these on a sweltering day without any guilt.

I’m partial to the lemon or raspberry, but I see new flavors like grapefruit and fruit and veggie bars have just been released. I will have to taste test these new all natural bars and will most likely add them to my favorites list.

5. Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Baking Chips

Chocolate! Made without any dairy products! However Ghirardelli does warn that these chips are manufactured on the same production line as products that do contain milk. While the line is cleaned thoroughly between productions they make no guarantees that cross-contamination doesn’t occur. Depending on your level of sensitivity this may not be a good choice for you.

I suppose you could bake with them but I’m a little lazy and like to mix them with a handful of nuts or dried cherries. Instant chocolate fix, and it is an excellent quality chocolate at that.

An additional surprisingly dairy free/vegan snack food: Oreos!

I’m not a fan of this popular cookie but I know that I am a minority and in the interest of public service will leave you with the knowledge that you can still indulge your Oreo habit. Remember to dunk them in Soy, Rice or Almond milk!

 

Elimination Diet: How to determine if you have a dairy allergy

I was on a healthy eating kick, eating yogurt every day, using low fat milk on my cereal, and treating myself to the occasional snack of high quality cheese. At a high risk for osteoporosis, I thought my daily (or more) yogurt was the ticket to healthy bones and with all the fabulous new flavors and new varieties of Greek yogurts I was happily spooning the stuff down my gullet.

But I felt and looked awful. I was red and scaly with eczema and the itching was unbearable. I had dark circles under my eyes that no amount of cover up would disguise. Worst of all, my asthma was flaring and I was struggling to get it under control.

My sister, the health nut, suggested I try eliminating dairy. She claimed her own skin issues were now gone, and she felt better than she ever had. I resisted because I had, like most of us, been taught that dairy is the best source of calcium, it’s good for everyone, and to remove it would condemn me to a life of brittle, shrinking bones. In the end I felt so awful and itchy that I decided to give it a try.

If you want to test if dairy is  a problem for you, an elimination diet is the first step.

The Elimination Diet:

Before making any drastic changes to your diet you should consult with your doctor. Be prepared to list your symptoms, what foods you think may be triggering them, and any family history of allergies.

1. Stop eating dairy: Remove all dairy from your diet. Milk, cheese, yogurt, and cream are the easy to spot culprits. Just don’t put them in your mouth.

The hard part is finding dairy in unexpected places. You will have to read food labels carefully, dairy pops up in the strangest places. Beware the term non-dairy! Non-dairy cream has milk protein, as well as many non-dairy cheeses. Luckily for us, veganism has become more popular; if a label says Vegan, you can safely assume it is dairy-free. This article is a handy resource for identifying dairy in foods.

2. Keep a food diary: Record everything you eat. Every bite, every sip, and even that little nibble you took while cooking! In addition to the food you are eating you should also record your symptoms and your general well being.

Yes, I know this step is tedious, but these weeks of recording everything you eat and how you feel without dairy in your diet may provide you and your doctor important clues to your health.

3. Slowly add dairy back into your diet: You may be anxiously anticipating this step because you miss your ice cream, or you may be dreading it if you have begun to feel better in the last few weeks. But this is when you can really learn how your body reacts to dairy, good or bad.

Simply begin eating or drinking small amounts of your favorite dairy products, increasing your intake each day.

It is very important here to keep that food diary and track your symptoms. After you eat that grilled cheese sandwich does your rash come flaring back? Do your ears itch? Reaching for that rescue inhaler more frequently? Or is your digestive track doing unspeakable things? None or some of these things may happen immediately or they may take a few days to pop up. Write them down!

If your symptoms had subsided and are now returning, you and your doctor may conclude that dairy is the culprit. If, on the other hand, there was no change in your symptoms on or off dairy it is likely not the source of your problems.

If you do conclude that dairy is a problem for you the next steps are the beginning of your new dairy free lifestyle!

4. Stop eating dairy, again: If your symptoms had lessened, or even disappeared when you were off dairy and reappeared when you reintroduced it, you will probably be relieved to remove it once again. Knowing you will feel better without that glass of milk is a huge incentive in the face of what may seem to be a difficult choice.

5. Replace those nutrients: Remember you still need calcium and other vitamins and minerals found in dairy. Check out my guide for easy and natural sources here.

I was lucky and within a week of starting my elimination diet I felt like a whole new person. Not everyone’s food allergies are quite so clear, and often your doctor will have you eliminate more than dairy, and may ask you to stop eating gluten, eggs, soy and nuts. The process of eliminating and reintroducing will be longer, but in the end, the reward of feeling and looking better will make it all worthwhile.