Of the common misconceptions about diet, dairy products — and milk in particular — tend to be among the most rumored. After all, not many grocery store staples can claim to have as many faux versions of itself as milk. The thing is, it seems like a new kind of alternative milk hits the shelves every year, and all of a sudden the one that came out last year is out of style, and the real thing gets demonized even further.
Is this justified?
The answer, as you might guess, is complicated. Dairy products can offer an array of health benefits — dairy makes bones stronger, provides a lot of calcium, and a reduced risk of Type 2 Diabetes. But for those who are lactose intolerant or have other sensitivities to dairy, digestion can be a problem, and diarrhea, bloating, and nausea can even come into play.
What makes this topic extra relevant to Haka Life Warriors is that full-fat dairy can cause inflammation. We’ll get more into this below. Here’s the lowdown on whether milk — and other dairies — does your joint pain and inflammation any good. (for those of you Haka Life Warriors following along, our pop culture roots have really been on display lately)
First things first: Does dairy cause inflammation?
Arthritis.org, one of the web’s leading sources on arthritis information, notes that full-fat dairy products — including whole milk, cheeses, sour creams, and more — are high in saturated fats. Saturated fats are known to cause inflammation, particularly in high doses or frequent use.
Some inflammation is good, but if you have arthritis or sensitive joints, you really want to watch that you don’t trigger too much.
This isn’t to say dairy is outright bad and should be avoided — there are many health benefits to dairy as well. But when you’re working hard to offset joint pain and inflammation, moderation is key. If you tend to have milk on your cereal in the morning followed by a glass of milk in the afternoon and a slice of cheese on your sandwich or burger at dinner, don’t be surprised if your inflammation issues spike.
Perhaps consider swapping out one of those servings for an alternative dairy product made from one of the below base ingredients. These days, nearly everything that is made with regular cow’s milk has a vegan or non-dairy alternative — cheese, milks, dipping sauces, you name it.
Alternative options to regular milk to help fight inflammation
The old standby when it comes to non-dairy milks, soy milk is known to be good as an anti-cancer option (according to Medical News Today) as well as an anti-inflammation powerhouse.
Soy is popular as a milk alternative in shakes and other drinks, and in kitchen recipes. This is because, when blended or cooked with other strong-flavored ingredients, it can more closely resemble the taste of cow’s milk than other alternative options. It certainly tastes different — particularly at first — but soy milk is readily available at supermarkets and is quite versatile.
Almond milk is high in Vitamin E — one cup contains up to 50% of your daily recommended intake — which makes it a great warrior in the fight against joint pain and inflammation. This option has become incredibly popular over the past few years, as it has a natural sweetness to it that makes it wonderful on a bowl of crisp cereal in the morning.
Fruit smoothies with almond milk can be quite delicious as well, as the almond flavor melds quite well with sweet fruits like berries or bananas. Try slicing up an almond or two to throw on top of the smoothie as well for an added boost of protein and omega-3s!
This one is rather simple — flaxseed is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, so it makes sense that the milk derived from it is, too. It’s commonly just called flax milk, though it isn’t nearly as commonly found as almond milk or soy milk. Coffee shops and cafes are just beginning to catch on to the craze. And it’s about time — flax seed is actually one of the best non-meat sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and it is thought to help balance raging hormones as well.
For those with heart problems, flaxseed can in some cases help to prevent further complications. Try adding some to your coffee in the morning or into that smoothie in place of almond milk. If the taste of flaxseed milk on its own doesn’t appeal to you, try adding a few drops of vanilla extract or a pinch of cinnamon (or both, if you feel extra jazzy!).
Hemp milk might be the most nutritious of the alternative milk. In fact, it contains more calcium per cup than dairy milk. And because it is loaded with Omega 3 fatty acids, it is an excellent anti-inflammatory as well. Hemp food products have really gained steam over the past decade as the medical effects of the hemp plant have really come into focus — and you can use this to your kitchen’s advantage. If you are a fan of hot cereals or oatmeal, there’s no better alternative milk than hemp. And if you never know what to order inside those hip and trendy coffee shops downtown, ask for a splash of hemp milk — your caffeinated beverage will appreciate the added protein.