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6 Alternatives to Milk: Which Is the Healthiest?

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6 Alternatives to Milk: Which Is the Healthiest?

A glass of milk for strong bones. Milk with cookies or morning cereal. Everyone loves milk, right? Not quite. Animal-derived milk does have its downside. These include allergies and lactose intolerance, possibly even the risk of certain cancers and diabetes.

The good news is that those who want or need to stay away from cow's milk can do so with a number of non-dairy milk alternatives. These vary in their levels of nutrition, color, flavor and texture.

1. Soy Milk

A popular alternative to dairy milk, soy milk is a bean extract of soybeans and commonly sold in sweetened, unsweetened and flavored varieties, including chocolate and vanilla.

Pros: In many ways, soy milk is nutritionally equivalent to cow's milk. It's often fortified with calcium, vitamins A and D and riboflavin and it usually includes 8 to 10 grams of protein per serving. Soy milk can also contain isoflavones, which have been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.

Cons: Even a little soy milk can cause severe allergic reactions to those with a soy allergy. In addition, a review published in 2014 in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine revealed that soy might negatively impact fertility in men.

2. Almond Milk

Made from ground almonds, water and (in most cases) sweetener, almond milk is sweet with a creamy texture similar to dairy milk.

Pros: Almond milk contains lots of vitamin E—about 50 percent of the daily value in one cup. Weight watchers will like the fact that almond milk has 1/3 of the calories of 2 percent cow's milk.

Cons: Almond milk has far less protein than dairy milk or soy milk. It also doesn't have the vitamins, minerals and fatty acids found in dairy milk, so it's important to look for fortified almond milk.

3. Rice Milk

Made from boiled rice, brown rice syrup and brown rice starch, rice milk is a popular alternative for cow's milk.

Pros: Rice milk is the most hypoallergenic of the milk alternatives. It's free of soy, gluten and nuts, important for those who are allergic or can't tolerate these ingredients.

Cons: If you're watching your weight, rice milk is high in carbohydrates. And it's low in protein and calcium compared to dairy milk. This milk is also thin and watery, so it's not a good cow's milk substitute for cooking or baking.

4. Coconut Milk

A close alternative to cow's milk, coconut milk most resembles the texture of whole dairy milk. It's somewhat high in fat (about 5 grams of saturated fat per cup).

Pros: Its nutty flavor makes coconut milk suitable for many types of baked foods. It's soy- and gluten-free, so those with multiple food allergies can tolerate this substitute. Coconut milk has far more potassium per cup than dairy milk (630 mg per cup, vs. 150 mg).

Cons: Coconut milk lacks the nutritional value of dairy milk. One cup of coconut milk contains 80 calories, 1 g of protein and 100 mg of calcium—compared to 100 calories, 8 g of protein and 300 mg of calcium for 1 percent dairy milk.

5. Flax Milk

A little thin and sweet, most flax milk is produced by organic, ethically responsible companies that use non-GMO flax.

Pros: High in fiber, flax milk is rich in alpha linoleic acids, which has been used to prevent and treat diseases of the heart and blood vessels. It is used to prevent heart attacks, lower high blood pressure, lower cholesterol and reverse hardening of the blood vessels. When fortified, this non-dairy alternative has as much calcium as regular milk, so it's good for those who need healthy, adequate levels of calcium.

Cons: Flax milk is low in protein. Flavored varieties tend to be heavily sweetened, so read the label for sugar content.

6. Hemp Milk

No, you won't get high on hemp milk. Made from hulled hemp seeds, water and (in most cases) sweeteners, hemp milk is a good alternative for those allergic to soy, nuts and gluten.

Pros: Hemp milk provides more iron than cow's milk. It's also very high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to promote heart and brain health.

Cons: Unless fortified, hemp milk is relatively low in calcium. It's rather expensive and can have a beany-nutty flavor that may not suit some taste buds. Many store bought varieties have sugar added, so read the label.

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The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

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With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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