Lauren Huang / Daily Nexus

If you’re like most Americans, you’ve grown up thinking you need to consume dairy to stay healthy. You think milk does your body good because that’s what dietary guidelines tell you. Plus, you need milk and other dairy products to have strong bones, right? I am going to do something radical and try to undo the effects of millions of dollars of “Big Milk” campaigns spent on brainwashing advertising schemes. 

In the 1980s, declining sales in the milk industry led to a big advertising push, attesting to milk’s nutritional benefits. In 1993, the California Milk Processor Board launched a new milk advertisement campaign: “Got Milk?” The iconic “Got Milk?” slogan plastered on billboards, commercials of celebrities donning milk mustaches and Olympic athletes crediting their success to milk all reminding Americans how essential milk was. The campaign helped reverse the declining milk sales that had plagued the industry for the past 20 years. In 1994, 755 million gallons of milk were sold in California, as compared to 740 million gallons in the year prior. The $23 million spent on advertising saved the industry an expected $255 million. In 2013, the dairy industry spent over $8 million on lobbying for favorable farming legislation. The “Got Milk?” advertisements launched the dairy industry into one of the most lobbied-for industries in the U.S ever since.

These over-exaggerated marketing claims lack support from recent studies. As it turns out, milk has very few benefits for the average adult. Cow’s milk and dairy-related products are linked to health and dietary risks. Dairy products contain high levels of saturated fats, which can increase the risk of heart disease. High milk consumption has also been linked to obesity. A study found that school-aged children who consumed three or more glasses of milk per day were likely to weigh more than their counterparts who drank less milk. Researchers have also found that high milk consumption can deteriorate bone health, which can cause more bone fractures and the development of osteoporosis. Furthermore, some dairy cows are treated with artificial growth hormones that leach into their milk supply. Those hormones may affect your health when you consume milk products, triggering acne and other skin issues. 

Maybe you’re okay with the health risks associated with dairy, but you cannot deny the environmental concerns of cattle. Cows are one of the leading causes of climate change — they are responsible for 62% of the carbon emissions produced by the food industry and emit 14.5% of all global greenhouse gasses. Dairy cows also greatly deplete freshwater resources, as they require twice as much water as beef cattle. Dairy farming also raises ethical dilemmas. In order to produce milk, female cows are perpetually kept pregnant through artificial insemination until they are eventually slaughtered for meat consumption. Dairy farming can’t be ethically justified to satisfy taste preferences.

You may be thinking that these are just the ramblings of a lactose-intolerant vegetarian, exacting her revenge against the dairy industry because her body lacks the enzyme to properly digest dairy. Okay, you got me … But don’t get me wrong, I love cheesy bread and ice cream but with great plant-based milk alternatives, you hardly feel left out. Alternative plant-based milk has gained popularity over cow milk in the past decade. Most of the plant-based milks available provide more nutrients than dairy milk, with higher levels of calcium and vitamin D. Not all plant-based alternatives are made equally and some share the same concerns with cow’s milk. But fret not, my cereal lovers and cookie-dunker readers, for there are great milk alternatives out there!

Almond milk ranks as the most popular plant-based milk in the U.S. This non-dairy alternative has several health benefits, including low calories, reducing the risk of heart disease and containing high amounts of vitamin E and calcium. However, almond milk is quite bad for the environment. Almonds require 101 gallons of water to make just one cup; to produce almond milk, there is generally a ratio of 1:3 or 1:4 cups of almonds to water. Almond milk is a good health alternative, but not environmentally sustainable.

Soy milk is another popular dairy alternative. Soy is nutrient-dense and provides essential amino acids, protein and a good balance of carbohydrates and fats. However, Soy is a water waster too; a liter of soy milk requires 297 liters of water to produce and 200 milliliters of soy milk creates 0.195 kilograms of carbon dioxide. These milk alternatives are better for you, but not our environment. 

With a low environmental impact and high nutritional value, oat milk is being implemented as a common addition to the American diet. 

Now on to oat milk … she’s not like other milks. With a low environmental impact and high nutritional value, oat milk is being implemented as a common addition to the American diet. 

In terms of water, a liter of oat milk requires 48 liters of water to produce. This is significantly lower compared to the water used to produce dairy, soy and almond milk! Oat milk also has a relatively low greenhouse footprint, with carbon dioxide emissions at 0.18 kilograms for a 200-milliliter glass. Ethical concerns are reduced with oat farming. Oats are an easy crop to maintain and require little to no fieldwork. Not only are oats in high demand, farmers are optimistic it will help the American agricultural industry

Not only is oat milk better for the environment, but also it’s better for you — oat milk has higher nutritional benefits than cow milk. Oat milk provides more riboflavin and vitamin B-2 than cow, almond and soy milk. Many manufacturers add additional vitamins and minerals to oat milk to increase the nutritional value of the drink. Additionally, unlike other milk alternatives, oat milk has a mild and creamy flavor. Taste preferences are a major concern for dairy consumers, but oat milk is complimented for having a mild taste and milk-like texture. Other milk alternatives have been criticized for their distinct nutty taste and water-like consistency. Oat milk is great for cereals, hot beverages and drinking on its own. As more and more people are making the switch to milk alternatives companies and restaurants are joining to make their menus more inclusive! Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts have incorporated oat milk beverages into their permanent menu for customers, making it an accessible alternative for people making the switch to a dairy-free diet!

Modern food culture is leaning toward eco-consciousness and sustainability. The dairy milk industry has inflated and exaggerated the nutritional benefits of milk. However, dairy products have been associated with health and environmental risks. Milk alternatives like almond and soy milk alleviate some of these issues. Oat milk remains the best option on the market, in terms of nutritional benefit, taste and environmental impact. So wipe off your milk mustache and give oat milk a try. Our gut, the cows and the earth will thank you!

Simone Kuo implores others to make the switch to alt-dairy. Also, milk mustaches are disgusting.