295: Dairy vs Non-Dairy Milk: Which Is Better For You, Your Skin + The Planet? (PART 2)

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>>This is a three-part series. Check out part 1 of the interview here and part 3 here!<<

In this highly anticipated second installment about dairy versus non-dairy milk, I’m diving into many of the ethical concerns and questions you’ve probably wondered about.

While I have tried my best to share information without too much emotion involved, I admit that I find the treatment of workers to be difficult to stomach + tolerate.

Since you already know what my biases are from Part 1, we’ll dive into the nutrition between options as well as additives, heavy metals, pesticides, environmental impacts, water use, and worker + animal abuse.

I realize that there’s a ton of information presented here and you might be tempted to say that I only am sharing a fragment of the issue. To appropriately cover each one of these topics would involve individual longer conversations.

So if something in this really interests you, I have placed the references at the end of the post so you can easily review them further for yourself.

And I encourage you to do more research even beyond this since ultimately that’s how one makes a truly informed choice.

With that said, let’s dive in!


Or, listen on your favorite app: iTunes (Apple Podcasts) | Spotify | Stitcher | TuneIn | Subscribe on Android

>>Check out part 1 of the interview here and part 3 here!<<

In this episode:

  • Nutrition content in dairy vs plant-based milk
  • Additive ingredients commonly found in vegan dairy
  • Biggest offender for high arsenic
  • Pesticide + glyphosate exposure – wow!
  • Environmental impact + Carbon footprint
  • Water use – Dairy vs Plant-based crops
  • Is plant-based milk really cruelty-free?
  • Animal abuse concerns


There is just no way for plant-based milk to match animal dairy unless they are fortified.

Cashew production often results in painful, caustic, permanent burns to the workers’ hands.


Milk bottles in wood box

295: Dairy vs Non-Dairy Milk: Which Is Better For You, Your Skin + The Planet? (PART 2) (FULL TRANSCRIPT)

Welcome back to episode #295 of the Healthy Skin Show!

This is part 2 of the Dairy vs Plant-based dairy conversation I started last week, so if you missed that conversation, I’d highly recommend that you check it out first.

It’s important to know what someone’s beliefs + biases are before diving into information like this, especially when emotions tend to run high. You can find that episode HERE.

This episode will focus more on the specifics of each type of dairy option. This includes the nutritional content and a lengthy list of criteria that I came up with to provide a more holistic view.

Depending on what factors are more important to you, this hopefully will offer insight into each dairy + plant-based milk option that you really care about.

Because what’s important to me personally may be very different for you, especially if your health goals + current challenges (as well as ethics) are different than my own.

I have to give a major shoutout to my associate clinical nutritionist Michelle Nilan who has been on the show before for doing a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of the research on this.


Pouring a glass of milk

Macronutrients of Dairy vs Plant-Based Milk

To kick things off, let’s start by exploring the nutritional profiles of different dairy options. The nutrient content is based on an eight (8) ounce serving size.

Since I focus heavily on protein intake, this is a great place to begin. Cow + goat milk provides 7 to 9 grams/serving, with soy milk coming in close with 7 to 8 grams. Unless fortified with extra protein, all other dairy-free milk products generally contain 0 to 3 grams/serving.

If we factor in the carbohydrate content, things get a bit tricky for plant-based milk because many are sweetened with added sugar. So keep in mind that what we’re sharing here is only unsweetened varieties that we reviewed.

Cow + goat milk typically contains around 10 to 12 grams. While the carb content varies significantly with plant-based options starting at about 26 grams for rice milk to 14 grams for oat milk to 4 grams for soy, and then the lowest carb contents (typically 1-2 grams) in hemp, almond, cashew, hazelnut + coconut.

Fat content tends to vary as well with whole cow + goat milk around 8 grams and low-fat around, 2.5 grams. Most other dairy-free milk is generally between 2 to 5 grams. I do think it’s worth noting that nut (including almond) + oat milk are high in Omega-6 fats which generally are considered to be more inflammatory when consumed in excess. The only plant-based milk with Omega-3 fats is hemp milk.

Calorie content also varies quite a bit. Though I don’t often worry about calories in my practice, I thought it might be worthwhile to include this information should someone want to know this. Whole cow + goat milk is usually around 150 calories, while low-fat is around 110 calories.

Again assuming that the plant-based milk is unsweetened (as this will impact total calories), total calories range from the low end of 25 to 35 calories for almond, cashew + hazelnut to the 50 to 60 calorie range for hemp + coconut milk. Soy + oat milk generally are around 90 calories, while rice milk comes in at 130 calories because of the high carb content.

Micronutrients of Dairy vs Plant-based Milk

When we look at the micronutrients of different milk profiles, this is where plant-based milk really falters. There is just no way for plant-based milk to match animal dairy unless they are fortified. So from the perspective of choosing an option that’s least processed with the fewest added ingredients, dairy would win out.

Cow’s milk is naturally occurring in calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, B2 + B12 with Vitamins A + D usually added during processing. I should note that it contains the highest amounts of phosphorus, potassium + vitamin D out of all options. Cow’s dairy lacks Vitamin E.

Soy milk naturally contains folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus + potassium with added (fortified) calcium + vitamins A, B2, B12 and D. It actually contains the highest amount of folate out of all the milk options we reviewed and lacks Vitamin E.

Almond milk naturally contains iron, magnesium + potassium, but in fairly minimal amounts.  Calcium + vitamins A, D and E are generally added. It lacks folate, phosphorus, B2 + B12.

Oat milk naturally contains a small amount of iron, and is typically fortified with calcium, potassium + vitamins A, B2, B12 and D. It lacks folate, magnesium, phosphorus + vitamin E.

Coconut milk also naturally contains a minimal amount of iron with calcium, potassium + vitamins A, B12, D and E added during processing. It lacks folate, magnesium, phosphorus + vitamin B2.

Rice milk naturally contains iron + phosphorus, with calcium, potassium, and vitamins A, B12 + D added to it (via fortification). Generally, rice milk lacks folate, magnesium + vitamins B2 and E.

Lastly, hemp milk contains iron with calcium, magnesium, potassium + vitamin D. Out of all of the milks, it has the highest amount of magnesium + iron, but it lacks folate, phosphorus + vitamins A, B2, B12 and E.

It’s worth noting that the vitamin B12 added to plant-based milk for fortification purposes is ALWAYS the cyanocobalamin form of the nutrient which also happens to be the cheapest form. It is also not a naturally occurring form of B12.


Oat milk

Additive Ingredients in Plant-Based Milk

Another concern I briefly mentioned in Part 1 of this series is the added ingredients found in many commercial plant-based milks.

These ingredients are not added to homemade versions since a long shelf life isn’t necessary and you can easily flavor a homemade nut or seed milk with spices, dates, or other non-nutritive sweeteners like stevia or monkfruit.

I don’t want to go too deep here because I feel like while you should be aware of added ingredients, fixating on them as if they’re “poison” is not helpful.

That said, sweetened dairy-free milk generally has quite a lot of added sugar.

To give them a mouth-feel similar to dairy and prevent the ingredients from separating (which happens with homemade plant-based milk – only requiring a quick shake of the container to reintegrate), thickening agents and emulsifiers are added.

These can include gums such as Guar, Gellan, Locust/Carob bean, or Acacia/Arabic which aren’t all that concerning in the grand scheme of things though some people may experience some GI upset from them (but this is not everyone).

Then there’s Xanthan gum which some research demonstrates that it has the potential to shift the microbiome.(1)

Tapioca starch is another additive you might see in the ingredient list, but it’s not something I’d worry about.

There’s a lot of information online about Carrageenan which is generally recognized as safe by the FDA, but there are some animal studies that have shown that it could be carcinogenic, associated with intestinal lesions + IBD-like intestinal changes, microbiome alterations, and inflammation. (2)

Lecithins are often added to keep oils or fats + water together. Typically lecithin is derived from soy or sunflower seeds. Because soy is such a GMO-heavy crop, if it’s not marked as organic, it’s likely derived from GMO soy.

Speaking of oils, one of the big complaints by wellness influencers is the addition of Omega-6 seed oils to plant-based milk. The common types of oils added are sunflower, rapeseed, canola, coconut + palm which generally increases the omega-6 fatty acid content.

And then you have natural flavors which act as taste-enhancers, but despite the name can be up to 90% synthetic + aren’t required to be disclosed what’s actually in them unless there is a common allergen present.

Unless you purchase some sort of flavored or sweetened dairy product or make plant-based milk from scratch, these ingredients are not included.

Given the number of these added ingredients in conjunction with nutrient fortification, this underscores why I + other nutrition professionals feel that these dairy-free products are actually processed foods.


Almond milk

Heavy Metals + Pesticide Contamination in Dairy + Plant-Based Milk

When we consider heavy metal exposure, it should come as no surprise that the biggest problem is with rice milk. Specifically, rice is high in inorganic arsenic from the pollution of groundwater, pesticide + herbicide use, industrial waste, fertilizers, and mining. (3)

Regardless of these exposures, rice is very adept at pulling arsenic from the soil even when soil arsenic isn’t exceptional. (4)

To give you a sense of how high the exposure is – arsenic levels are 10-fold higher in rice compared to other grains. (3)

Surprisingly, there is no limit put on the amount of arsenic found in food.

But there is a limit on arsenic found in drinking water. The EPA, the EU + the World Health Organization (WHO) currently require the level to be below 10 parts per billion (ppb). (5)

And yet, commercial rice milk products available for purchase in the UK exceed the 10 ppm drinking water rule. (3) There’s also been other reports over the years of both organic + non-organic rice milk in the US that also exceed the limit. (6)

When it comes to pesticide content, all milk options are above the EPA + WHO limit for organochlorine pesticides (OCPs) (including commercially produced cow, almond, coconut, soy, rice, hemp and cashew). (7)

Glyphosate exposure is also an issue especially impacting oat, soy, almond + rice milk.

In fact, 92% of soy crops, 89% of almond trees + 46% of rice crops from 2012 to 2016 were sprayed with glyphosate according to a letter in 2019 by the EPA. (8)

Both conventionally-grown oats, as well as organic oats, have demonstrated levels of glyphosate beyond what the EWG considers to be “safe”. (9,10)

It’s likely no surprise that GMO soy is very high in glyphosate (since it was engineered specifically to withstand it) whereas conventional or organic soy doesn’t share this concern. (11)

And we know that glyphosate impacts the bees negatively, which is not good at all.


Macadamia nuts

Environmental Impact of Dairy + Plant-Based Milk

One factor that is often cited as a problem with the dairy industry is the vast negative impact that it has on the environment. However, I have found that even plant-based milk has its own set of issues as well.

If we start with what impacts water use, cow’s milk is the most water-thirsty of them all. Almond production requires the most water of all the crops we’re looking at in this series closely followed by rice. (12)

In fact, 17% of the “agricultural water use in California” is for almond production, though it’s still less than what cows require. So if we’re looking at an 8-ounce glass of cow’s milk vs almond milk, the cow’s milk consumes approximately 50 gallons of water versus about 32.3 gallons of water for almonds. (13,14,15)

Camel milk production requires about half the amount of water needed for dairy cows. (16)

Hemp production is less water-hungry than almond or cow’s milk, but requires more than oat, soy or pea. Soy is actually the crop that uses the least amount of water. (12,17)

Macadamia nuts are particularly interesting because they can self-regulate in times of drought and low soil moisture making them use water more efficiently. (18)

In terms of the destruction of land besides the glyphosate + pesticide use I already mentioned, conventional cow dairy production is the largest user of land and certainly does contribute an unbelievable amount of pollution into the surrounding ecosystem via runoff. (12)

However that’s not the only option, especially in farms that participate in regenerative dairy cow practices which actually help prevent run-off and improve the soil quality. (19)  I hope to talk more about regenerative farming practices on the show in episodes later this year so stay tuned!

Hemp is a very environmentally-friendly option for improving soil health + supporting biodiversity. Interestingly it can improve land with high levels of heavy metals in the soil! And it has a naturally high level of disease resistance without a need for chemicals and low greenhouse gas emissions. (20)

Another interesting plant-based crop is macadamia nuts which are highly sustainable and regenerative especially given their natural ability to regulate water use. They have been shown to increase biodiversity along with pollinators while suppressing pests. And often 100% of the crop is used including the husk and shells. (21,22)

One thing I would like to highlight is packaging since that can have an impact on the environment from a recycling + landfill perspective.

Tetrapaks are not universally recycled – only 60% of locations in the US will accept them. (Learn more here about Tetrapak recycling.)

That said, milk cartons are generally recycled along with plastic jugs.

And if you get your milk from a local farmer in a glass container, many can be returned for reuse + a deposit return.


Rice fields in Indonesia

Carbon Footprint of Dairy + Plant-based Options

Another point of contention regarding the environment is the carbon footprint of dairy.

Convention dairy farming produces more greenhouse emissions than vegetable protein farming. This is before even taking into account the deforestation for agricultural mono-crops + transportation of said mono-crop feed to the farms. (23)

In contrast, regenerative cattle farming practices do a better job of balancing things out because the herd is moved daily allowing for grass to regrow while pulling carbon back down into the soil in the process. (24)

Camel milk production puts fewer emissions into the air – approximately 10-15% of cow ammonia emissions + 1-2% of methane emissions compared to cattle. (16)

Interestingly, rice production produces a sizable amount of methane when the fields are flooded. (23)

In contrast, almonds, oats + coconuts produce lower levels of greenhouse gases.

And lastly, it’s worthwhile to consider where the crop you’re consuming originated from.

For example, cashews are grown in tropical regions – not in North America.

Being aware of how far these crops have to travel just to make it to a kitchen table near you using fossil fuels to ship them very far distances.


Potato milk

Are Plant-Based Milks Cruelty-Free?

As I shared in Part 1, one of the things that got me questioning the “Good for the Planet” slogan often associated with plant-based foods was the surprising amount of what I’d describe as cruel, inhumane, and abusive treatment of the workers.

Does the treatment of human beings involved in the process of making these products not matter?

I think that it most certainly does.

So let’s talk about several of the issues I’ve uncovered…

Wages for workers are often low with crops produced in third-world countries.

Cashew production is predominantly done by female workers making less than $3/day while coconut farmers are paid less than $2/day. (25,26)

Rice also pays low wages – about $1.20/day and may involve child laborers. Many of these farmers are women as men who legally own everything leave to work in the cities. (27,28,29)

On top of this, the risk of physical harm is also quite real, especially when the practice of farming can be dangerous for a number of reasons.

Cashew production often results in painful, caustic, permanent burns to the workers’ hands (many of whom are women). If you’re not aware, a single cashew is grown at the bottom of a cashew apple.

The nut that you’re familiar with must be removed from the shell that contains urushiol oil, but workers are rarely provided protective gloves to do so. Even when gloves are available, most workers will avoid using them because of the increased difficulty shelling the nuts slows their efficiency + reduces their already low wages. (25)

Protective breathing gear is not provided so the dust from shelling the cashews causes throat irritation and chest pain.

Specifically in Vietnam, forced cashew production is used in lieu of more official drug treatment programs (even for children). The time a worker is required to stay can randomly be extended up to four years without any explanation or warning. Abusive treatment for “misbehaving” includes beating with wooden objects, being shocked, or locked (sometimes for months) in a “punishment room.” (30)

While in Africa, Cambodia + India, there is documentation showing whole families may be involved in cashew production. Workers have to deal with sexual harassment, and sometimes lose fingers due to accidents using the shell cutter blades. (30,25)

When it comes to oat production, workers face a serious risk of being buried alive in silos and suffocating. (31)

Rice production exposes workers to standing water mixed with animal manure associated with a high prevalence of skin diseases with all too familiar symptoms such as “itching, burning sensation on exposed areas, pus formation, redness, pain, small wounds, burning with sweating” as well as fungal and bacterial skin infections, mosquito bites, snakes, leeches, caustic chemicals, and pesticides. (32,29)

And most workers end up with something called Foot Immersion disease (aka. “paddy-foot”) where the skin of their hands + feet break out in blisters and begin to decay along with developing infected nails that fall off. (32,29)

I could actually go on more in this section, but I feel like this already is a lot to take in.

Needless to say that if you ever needed a reason to do a bit more research into the companies you buy from, perhaps this is it.

Not all companies participate in or allow these types of abusive worker environments, but knowing for sure will involve asking questions of the companies especially since their practices may not be clearly spelled out on their website.


Dairy cow

Treatment of Animals for Dairy + Plant-Based Milk

And finally, we need to tackle the question of the treatment of animals since this is another point of great concern.

You likely are aware of the horrendous treatment of animals involved in the factory farming method. This includes both cows and goats, and for the sake of time I’ll assume that, like me, you’ve seen at least one documentary about factory farming and are educated enough to know that THIS is not the way you’d like animals to be treated.

But not all types of animal dairy are abusive to their livestock.

Regenerative farms + local producers both of cow and goat milk are available. It’s important to do your research and learn what their values are! Some will even welcome you to do a farm tour so you can see how the animals are treated.

And lastly, we come to animal abuse associated with coconut milk – specifically in the Thai coconut industry where baby wild monkeys are kidnapped and sold into a “monkey school” where they are trained to pick coconuts on farms. (33,34)

The monkeys are abused with whips + other abusive tactics until they are sold to coconut pickers who also provide horrific working + living conditions for these animals.

This issue is quite recent to the release of this episode and includes coconut milk products from Thailand that are canned, boxed, or packaged from a list of companies including Chaokoh, Ampol Food (parent company Theppadungporn Coconut Co.), Aroy-D, Thai Coconut Public Company, Tropicana Oil, Thai Pure, Ampawa, Edward & Sons Trading Co., and Suree.

You can find coconut milk products that do not use forced monkey labor HERE.

Walmart appears to be the most recent chain to pull these products off of their shelves as of June 2022. Other brands including Costco, Target, Kroger, Publix, Stop + Shop, Food Lion, Wegmans, and Albertsons have already done so.

Other coconut-producing areas including Brazil, Colombia, and Hawaii, do not participate in monkey labor.


So with all of this said, I hope that you’re still hanging in here with me.

I know it’s A LOT!

That’s why we’ve created different simplified tables with this information broken down for you. I know that my head would be spinning right now if I couldn’t see everything a bit more simplified.

Next up in Part 3, I’ll break down more information on the allergenicity of different dairy + plant-based options as well as talk a bit about “raw milk”, plus I think it’s important to consider accessibility because these options aren’t always available everywhere nor are they financially accessible to everyone.

If you’ve got any questions or thoughts to share about this, leave a comment below so I can address them.

Thank you so much for tuning in and I look forward to digging deeper with you in the next episode!



  1. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41564-022-01093-0
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1242073/pdf/ehp0109-000983.pdf
  3. https://sci-hub.ru/10.1016/j.envpol.2008.03.015
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17969706/
  5. https://www.epa.gov/dwreginfo/drinking-water-arsenic-rule-history
  6. https://sci-hub.ru/10.1080/19393210.2013.842941
  7. https://digitalscholarship.tsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1020&context=dissertations
  8. https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2019-04/documents/glyphosate-response-comments-usage-benefits-final.pdf
  9. https://detoxproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Glyphosate_Contamination_Report_Final1.pdf
  10. https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news-release/2018/10/roundup-breakfast-part-2-new-tests-weed-killer-found-all-kids
  11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814613019201?via%3Dihub
  12. https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impact-milks
  13. https://www.almonds.com/almond-industry/industry-news/new-research-water-footprint-smaller-california-almonds-global
  14. https://foodprint.org/blog/dairy-water-footprint/
  15. https://www.verifythis.com/article/news/verify/food-verify/almond-milk-contains-almonds-tiktok-video-fact-check/536-dd318a27-7d7a-4088-a394-3b3ff7ac18d8
  16. https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/13/1/47
  17. https://www.ediblebrooklyn.com/2020/plant-milks-sustainability/
  18. https://www.foodingredientsfirst.com/news/conscious-indulgence-highly-sustainable-macadamia-nut-market-forecast-for-growth.html
  19. https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/food-drink/ethical-dairy-farming
  20. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/267766816_Ecological_benefits_of_hemp_and_flax_cultivation_and_products
  21. https://app-ausmacademia-au-syd.s3.ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/factfigure/WYhv09gpP61ajOES8BrOyAmf9bMgDB0fmL6UCERN.pdf
  22. https://australianmacadamias.org/industry
  23. https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:b0b53649-5e93-4415-bf07-6b0b1227172f/download_file?file_format=application%2Fpdf&safe_filename=Reducing_foods_environment_impacts_Science%2B360%2B6392%2B987%2B-%2BAccepted%2BManuscript.pdf&type_of_work=Journal+article
  24. https://alibi.com/feature/22486/What-is-Grass-Farming.html
  25. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6883233/Indian-cashew-processors-2-day-left-burns-shells-superfood-loved-vegans.html
  26. https://rainforestjournalismfund.org/stories/dirty-secret-behind-wests-coconut-fad
  27. https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/food-drink/shopping-guide/rice
  28. https://thewire.in/agriculture/hard-realities-woman-farmer-in-india
  29. https://www.dawn.com/news/1347349
  30. https://www.hrw.org/report/2011/09/07/rehab-archipelago/forced-labor-and-other-abuses-drug-detention-centers-southern
  31. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/updates/93-116.html
  32. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315747661_Prevalence_of_occupational_skin_diseases_among_rice_field_workers_in_Haryana
  33. https://investigations.peta.org/monkeys-abused-coconut-milk/
  34. https://investigations.peta.org/thai-coconut-milk-cruelty/

There is just no way for plant-based milk to match animal dairy unless they are fortified.