If I can’t drink milk, what do I put in my coffee?

The morning alarm triggers the classically conditioned response to get out of bed for your caffeine fix*. Almost instinctively, in a zombie-like fashion, you make your way into the kitchen and flick the kettle on. With the brewing aromas of coffee awakening your senses, you prepare the milk – full cream of course – and create a work of art as you combine creamy milk and coffee. Clutching your steaming cup of frothy cappuccino, you feel like you can take on another day.

There is no doubt that many people can relate to this feeling. But should we be rethinking the frothy addition of cow’s milk to our morning cuppa?

How bad is milk really?

The common argument, “Milk can’t be bad for you, just take a look at infants, they need milk to grow strong and healthy!” has resulted in a thoughtless over-consumption of dairy milk.

Yes, it is true that babies need milk. However, while infants can produce enough lactase, a digestive enzyme that breaks down lactose from milk, few people retain this ability after weaning. The reason for this is evolutionary. The body stops producing the enzyme because it becomes redundant. No other animal consumes milk as an adult. Humans are the only creature that began incorporating milk into the adult diet with the domestication of animals about 10,000 years ago. Some cultures, in particular Eastern Europeans, managed to adapt their metabolism via gene mutation, which is why different cultures seem to react differently to dairy products.

The reality is, cow’s milk just doesn’t sit well with most of us. In fact, about three-quarters of the world’s population is intolerant to lactose (the main carbohydrate found in dairy products). At a biological level, lactose intolerance is when the small intestine does not produce enough lactase to breakdown the lactose present in dairy. A smaller percentage is also allergic to casein (the protein in milk). Intolerance of either or both of these can result in one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Bloating
  • Pain or cramps
  • Gas
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

On top of this, there are other health concerns that are worth looking into. Commercial dairy herds are often exposed to high amounts of antibiotics, hormones and genetically modified (GMO) substances. These ingested toxins are then released through the cows’ milk – the liquid that we consume on a daily basis!

Another factor to consider is the effect of dairy on weight.

Fresh Full Cream Milk Nutritional Information:

With 10 grams of carbs per one cappuccino, it is easy to exceed your daily allowance of carbohydrates in no time at all. Let’s look at a real-life scenario: You sit down for breakfast and immediately order your cappuccino or tea before you think about placing a food order. You knock back the beverage, devour eggs, bacon, lots of buttery mushrooms and roasted tomatoes (doing everything right) and then – because why not – you end off the experience with just one more frothy, milky drink. Now stop. In this one sitting you could walk away having consumed almost 25g of carbs without even realising it. Scary right?

Further, you will also have consumed a similar amount of fat. That’s fine when you are starting out on your Banting journey, but by the time you get to RMR’s Transformation phase, you want to be burning your own body’s fat stores, not constantly refuelling from the refrigerator!

Even though full-cream is the best, least modified milk option, it is worth taking a step back and assessing how much dairy is present in your diet. Maybe you should look into reducing milk from your diet, but that’s not to say that you need to trick yourself into loving black filter coffee and black tea. There are other options to spruce up your choice of hot beverage.

Rice milk – non-dairy, but higher in carbs and pricey

Made from milled rice and water, rice milk is the least allergic of the milk products. It is suitable for those with lactose or nut allergies. In terms of texture, rice milk fans believe it has the strongest resemblance to the creamy consistency of cow’s milk. This makes it a good mental and practical replacement. However, 1 litre of non-GMO regular rice milk ranges from R25 - R40, depending on the brand – pricey compared to the R18 for normal full cream milk. Also, because of its low calcium content, nutritionists argue that rice milk is not an adequate replacement for milk, though certain brands make up the deficiency by adding calcium and vitamin D.

A nutritional summary of rice milk seems to fall outside the Banting diet recommendations – particularly for those with type 2 diabetes:

Per serving, rice milk contains more than double the carbohydrates in cow’s milk and has a much lower fat content. So from a Banting perspective, rice milk is far less suitable than cow’s milk. However, if one suffers from either lactose intolerance or nut allergies, and your morning cup of coffee or tea will only be satisfying with a dash of creamy something, then go for it. But try and stick to one a day, and remember to factor the higher carb content into your daily allowance (e.g. no more than a quarter of a cup of rice milk during Transformation phase).

Almond milk – the preferred vegan choice, organic too, but very expensive

Almond milk is a dairy-free nut milk made from finely ground almonds and water. When frothed up, it replicates the texture of cow’s milk almost to the ‘T.' The flavour is obviously different – we’re talking about nuts vs. cows – but once you get used to the slightly sweet, nutty flavour it is a truly delicious replacement. Suitable for vegans and hormone-free, almond milk is packed full of essential nutrients like Vitamin E and minerals like Potassium, Calcium, and Magnesium. It also contains plenty of brain-nourishing Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.

With less than 1 gram of carbs per 100ml, this milk alternative seems to be the safest choice for the Banting lifestyle. While ticking most of the right boxes, there are, however, two downsides. First, the cost. The store-bought almond milks are especially expensive, with prices of 1-litre cartons ranging from R36 to R120 for the organic stuff! Second, the potential added ingredients. Always remember to check the carton for extra ingredients and avoid anything that has the word “sweetened” splashed across the front.

Make your own milk and milk derivatives

For these reasons, it is worth investigating making your own milk. There are plenty of delicious and easy-to-follow recipes available online. Just bear in mind that the process can get quite messy, it can also be pretty time-consuming, and the liquid goes rancid within a few days.

Another milk alternative that is worth looking into is kefir. Kefir is a fermented milk rich in calcium, protein, and B-vitamins. It produces a mild, light and refreshing, slightly carbonated beverage. In terms of allergies, the lactose is already pre-digested by the lactic acid bacteria, making it a suitable beverage for people with lactose intolerance. Indeed, kefir is great for gut health as it contains a number of probiotics and we recommend it as one of the fertilisers in Banting 2.0. Evidence suggests that improving gut health can reduce and even reverse allergies to dairy. Just note, the taste does take some getting used to, so start off with small doses – it can be quite overpowering!

If coconut is your thing, here's a great recipe for a Blueberry and Coconut smoothie to get you going.

Informed decisions are key to a quality lifestyle

At the end of the day, drastically restricting your diet can have significant adverse effects on quality of life; and life is still about enjoying the simple pleasures. For most of us, milk, primarily in a cup of coffee, is just one of those things. The key is to make informed decisions about consuming dairy products as part of a balanced diet. If your morning cuppa with frothy milk is something that brings you joy, then remember to choose grass-fed, raw milk where possible. Just bear in mind that you will need to cut the carbs somewhere else during the day. Alternatively, give these milk replacements a go, and see if you can get used to them and do away with the dairy.

* Note that we recommend avoiding caffeinated drinks during Transformation. For a fuller discussion on what you can eat when, see here.

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