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Record Number of People are Ditching Dairy

Updated: May 19, 2022

Emily Davies examines how while more people drink plant-based milks every year, it is important to consider their impact on getting nutrients into diets.

Photo by No Revisions

Research by Mintel has found that 25% more UK citizens now drink alternatives to cow’s milk than in 2020, with 44% more people aged 25 to 44 ditching the dairy version.

The study also showed that a quarter of the 2,000 people asked said the pandemic was a factor in switching to a more sustainable and eco-friendly diet. Unsurprisingly, younger people are more willing to change to oat or almond milk, with the Mintel study showing 84% of those aged 16 to 24 still drink cow’s milk compared to 96% of people over 65.

It also revealed oat milk overtook almond in 2020 as the plant-based drink of choice, with consumption having almost doubled between 2019 and 2020. The average person in the UK drinks 50% less dairy than 70 years ago, but the shift away from dairy has increased exponentially since COVID-19, with sales rising by £100m.

Planetary Impact

While plant-based milk isn’t completely green, it is significantly better than cow’s milk. Soya is used in alternative products and soybean production is a leading cause of deforestation, but it still uses much less land and water than dairy products. While it is estimated that it takes 15 gallons of water to grow just 16 almonds and most are grown in drought-prone areas, one glass of cow’s milk produces three times the emissions of a plant-based milk glass.

However, clotted cream seems to be an exception to the dairy-free revolution. The use of clotted cream almost doubled over the last year. Amy Price, Senior Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel, said:

“Clotted cream has benefited from Brits spending more time in the home, including enjoying more afternoon teas and the rise in cooking and baking.”

Health Implications

Lifestyle changes led by millennial and Gen Z generations have triggered a vegan trend, but nutritionists had been recommending plant-based milks to alleviate health problems for years before avocado toast become all the rage.

Those who are suffering from autoimmune diseases or gastrointestinal problems like irritable bowel syndrome are advised to drink non-dairy alternatives. They are also free from cholesterol and lactose, so are well-known alternatives for people with lactose intolerance and cardiovascular issues.

However, despite the multiple benefits for both health and the environment, these alternative milks often have an insufficient amount of protein, calcium and other vitamins to fuel a well-rounded diet. The New York Times has reported that because so many plant milks don’t provide enough protein, potassium or vitamin D, manufacturers sometimes add sweeteners like cane sugar and rice syrup.

Before you think there is no winning and start taking your coffee black, it is possible to add the required nutrients to plant-based milks and incorporate protein into a plant-based diet in general. Healthline has compiled a handy list of protein plant sources, and LiveKindly has listed some high protein plant milks.

However, it is important to note that younger children should not be drinking exclusively plant-based milk, despite the advantages. Unless there is a medical or special dietary reason for it, they should still drink cow’s milk because alternatives cannot provide the sheer volume of nutrients they need to grow, according to the New York Times.

So, while the societal shift away from cow’s milk is beneficial to both health and the planet, it is important to consider your diet as a whole when deciding what type of alternative milk is best for you.


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1 Comment

Feb 28, 2022

Interesting article, it's heartening to see more people choosing dairy free options.

I'd like to point out though that one claim here is misleading: "Soya is used in alternative products and soybean production is a leading cause of deforestation, but it still uses much less land and water than dairy products".

The implication being that it is the human consumption of soya that is the drive behind soya demand and deforestation. However, the vast majority of soybean crop is actually fed to livestock, approximately 80%.

Therefore we could more accurately state that growing feed for livestock is the leading cause of deforestation. And that if we switch to plant-based milk alternatives we actually reduce the need for deforestation.

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