A guide to choosing the right vegan milk for you

Plant-based milk is an excellent alternative for us looking for cruelty-free products that don’t cause animal suffering and have a smaller carbon and water footprint. In my opinion, plant-based milk is part of the solution for our nutritional, spiritual, and environmental tribulations. 

If you are new to the milk-free life, choosing vegan milk can be overwhelming. With the growing popularity of eating vegan food, supermarkets add new dairy-free products to their shelves every day. Soymilk, rice milk, almond milk, hemp milk, coconut milk and oat milk to start. Then there are the sugar-free options, flavoured options, milk with added calcium. With so many options, how do we decide which kind of non-dairy milk to buy? It all depends on what you are using the milk for, drinking, baking, coffee, and potential dietary restrictions. 

Here is your ultimate guide to plant-based milk, complete with a rundown of flavour, use and diet.

Soymilk

Soymilk might be one of the most ubiquitous plant-based milk available today. It has a long history dating back many Chinese dynasties. A mural on a stone slab showing soy milk and tofu preparation, dating back to 25-220 AD is the oldest evidence of its existence. With a whopping 7g per cup, soymilk has a high protein content and is equivalent to cow’s milk in this respect. Soymilk is one of the better choices to pick when it comes to cooking. It is stable at high temperatures, making it a popular choice for savoury dishes and sauces.

Soymilk is one of the better options for baking because of its high protein content. You can also curdle soymilk by adding an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar while heating the milk. Conclusion? Soymilk might be the uncool older sister on the shelf, it is versatile, affordable, and you can use it in any dish instead of cow’s milk. When in doubt, sugar-free soy milk is always a safe option. I recommend researching the brands available at your local supermarket and make sure the soy is ethically sourced. 

Oatmilk

Oatmilk is genuinely one of my favourite milk alternatives, especially the chocolate flavour varieties are heartwarming. It doesn’t contain saturated fats and contains about 2 to 3 grams of protein per cup. Oatmilk is light and slightly sweet in flavour. You might compare it to low-fat cow’s milk. Because of the mildly sweet taste, it is excellent for baked goods, smoothies, or cereal. The barista types are an awesome option for your morning coffee or tea. 

A perfect iced latte

Rice milk

Rice milk is thinner than most other cowmilk alternatives. This dairy-free option is made by blending boiled rice with water, sometimes sweeteners and vitamins are added. This variety is high in carbohydrates and low in protein with only 1 gram per cup. Because it doesn’t contain soy, nuts, or gluten, it is a preferable choice for people with allergies. Its sweet flavour makes it a good choice for cakes, and its delicate texture makes it fit well in soups and light sauces, but it may be too sweet for some recipes. 

Hemp milk

Hemp milk probably fits the vegan stereotype of unwashed hippy living on a homestead the best. If that is the image you are trying to achieve, I would definitely go for this stuff. But if you don’t identify with this figure, don’t pass up on hemp milk just yet. Hemp milk is a nutritional bomb, boasting omega-3s, calcium, and vitamin D, and has all the essential amino acids. It is high in fat (8 grams a cup) and contains almost no carbohydrates, so an excellent choice for those following a low-carb diet.

Some describe the flavour of hemp milk as grassy, and it is not as creamy as other kinds of milk. It works well in cereals, smoothies, and recipes requiring a lighter milk substitute. In case you are wondering, no, it will not make you high. Hemp milk is made from hemp seeds for which CBD and THC contents are almost undetectably low and will not cause any mood-altering effects.

Coconutmilk

There are two types of coconut milk, the thick kind, often found packed in a can and the thin kind. Both are a product of the white flesh of the coconut. The thick type is a great staple to always have in your pantry and makes a frequent appearance in many Southeast Asian recipes. I use at least a can a week, and I believe seriously unmissable in vegan cooking in soups, stews, and sauces. The thin type has the consistency of light milk and only has a slight coconutty flavour. However, the taste is strong enough that I wouldn’t recommend using it in your coffee. One cup of thin coconut milk contains 4.5 grams of fat, 1 gram of fibre and no protein. 

Flaxseed milk

Flaxseed milk is probably one of the lesser known milk alternatives, but definitely, one to have on your radar. Like rice milk, it is a fantastic substitute for people with allergies, as it is nut-free, gluten-free, and soy-free. Flaxmilk is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and contains vitamins A and D. It is high in protein (8 grams per cup) and fat (3.5 grams per cup), while low on carbohydrates, thus an excellent choice for people on a low-carb diet. 

Almond milk

The last milk option I would like to discuss here is almond milk. Almond milk is a popular vegan option and is incredibly versatile. It isn’t a great source of protein or fibre but does contain vitamin D, calcium, and iron. Try it in for your morning cereal or porridge, or in a smoothie. I don’t like it in my coffee as it often turns my cappuccino sour and doesn’t mix well. 

I retrieved all nutritional data for this article from www.myfooddata.com, who source their data from the USDA Food Data Central, except for the flax seed milk, which contains the source in the link. All images are from Rawpixel.

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Is lab-grown meat vegan?

A few years ago lab-grown meat still was a one-off gimmick produced by a scientist in a university lab, but buying a lab-grown burger patty at your local supermarket might soon be a reality. But does this mean that vegans can soon enjoy juicy ‘beef’ burgers? The short answer is no, at the moment, lab-grown meat is not (yet) vegan. To understand why lab-grown meat is not vegan, we will delve into what lab-grown meat is and how it is made. We will also explore whether or not it is possible to produce meat without involving animals in the production process in the future. 

What is lab-grown meat?

The jury is still out on how to call the newest fad in the land of processed foods. Besides lab-grown meat, the terms cultured meat, slaughter-free meat, in vitro meat, cultivated meat, and cell-based meat, have all been used to describe the meat produced by an in vitro cell culture of animal cells. Marketers of the product even go as far as to brand it as ‘clean’ meat. Lab-grown meat should not be confused with bioengineered meat, which is a 100% plant-based product created to have the look, taste, and texture of meat. 

The idea of cultured meat is not recent and has almost a 100-year history. In 1931, Winston Churchill wrote: “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.” In the 70s scientist were able to cultivate the first in vitro muscular fibres. It took another 40 years before the Dutch scientist Dr Mark Post created the first cultured beef burger patty in 2013. In the last decade, many entrepreneurs have launched lab-grown meat start-ups, and on 2 December 2020, the Singapore Food Agency approved the first cultured meat product for commercial sale. Naturally, other products, companies, and countries will follow soon. Therefore, we must know how it is produced and whether it is better for the life of animals, the planet, and our health. 

There are many different ways to cultivate meat, but currently, the most popular method is harvesting stem cells from a cow, pig, or chicken. Stem cells are the building blocks for everything in your body, from muscles to organs. Muscle stem cells are harvested from a live animal and placed into a favourable artificial environment supplying essential nutrients for growth, called the growth medium. Not to forget, scaffolding is needed for the cells to grow on, like collagen. The development of the stem cells into juicy steaks takes place in a bioreactor. Because we still need the animals for the stem cells, lab-grown meat is not vegan!

In some cases, the growth medium includes fetal bovine serum (FBS). Now, this might be something you’ve never heard of, but FBS is a common ingredient of animal cell growth media. Blood is harvested from a bovine fetus after the fetus is removed from the slaughtered cow. The blood is then further processed to produce the serum. Please think about that for a second. Luckily, there are alternatives to using the blood of unborn baby cows as the growth medium. New developments show that the cell culture medium can be produced entirely free of animal-derived components; at a large scale with low costs, making the product at least vegetarian. 

Will lab-grown meat be vegan in the future? 

Lab-grown meat is not vegan because it requires harvesting stem cells from a live animal. According to Mosa Meat, a start-up in the cultivated meat space, stem cells are taking from the muscle of an animal, done with a small biopsy under anaesthesia. This sounds less harmful than slaughtering cows for their meat or impregnating cows, so they lactate and we can take their milk, but will this approach still be possible when lab-grown meat hits industrial scales? Scientists are currently working on producing meat indefinitely from starter cell lines, without requiring new cells from a living organism. Starter cell lines are long-lasting lines called immortal cell lines, multiplying themselves forever. Unfortunately, these developments are still in its infancy and not yet tried and tested on an industrial scale.  

What is the verdict? 

As lab-grown meat hits the commercial market in Singapore, it still involves taking cells from live animals. According to Just Eat, the company behind the lab-grown chicken bites, they don’t kill a single bird in the production process. Interestingly enough, they also say their product is not vegetarian or vegan because it is still meat. However, according to a recent Guardian article, the growth medium for the Singapore production line includes foetal bovine serum. So, the chicken bites are not vegetarian because cows were slaughtered to make the growth of the cells possible, not because it is ‘meat’. The Guardian article is misleadingly called “No-kill, lab-grown meat to go on sale for the first time”. 

In a recent article published by GCF, someone wrote: “lab-grown meat is meat, and per definition, vegans do not eat meat”. I don’t entirely agree with this statement. Vegans don’t consume, buy, or use in any other form, products that included animals in the production chain, regardless of whether someone slaughtered the animal or not. For example, hiring a zebra for your engagement party, not vegan. However, meat can be vegan if we can produce it without involving animals in the production process. That isn’t to say that lab-grown meat still promotes the idea of carnism, which is the belief system that supports the consumption of animal products and meat. From this point of view, one could argue that the motivations behind cultivating meat are unethical. 

All in all, I do believe growing meat artificially could be a solution to reducing animal suffering that is involved in animal farming and the environmental impact of cow farts. 

In later articles, I want to dive into the possibilities to replace the fetal bovine serum, the environmental impact of lab-grown meat, and carnism. 

Would you eat lab-grown meat? Please let me know in the comments below. 

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The different flavours of Vegan

Veganism is one of the fastest-growing trends in the developed world. Every day, more people decide to reduce their meat and dairy intake and consume fewer animal products. However, as with most things in life, it takes time to make a fundamental change. The road to devoted veganism is paved with intermediate steps. You might have taken the leap at once, from blissfully ignorant omnivore to hardcore vegan. Others are taking baby steps to get where we eventually want to be. Therefore, we have listed 7 variations of veganism for you below. 

Vegan (with a capital V)

For the real deal Vegans, veganism is so much more than just a diet. It’s a way of living and relating to your environment. Sometimes this group is also referred to as ‘moral vegan’, they extend the vegan philosophy into other areas of their lives and are opposed to the use of animals for any purpose. They are often predominantly driven by animal rights and the idea that animals don’t have a different worth based on their species. You might recognize us from the hemp clothing we wear and the block of tofu we always have at the ready. 

Dietary Vegan 

Dietary vegans, sometimes also referred to as strict vegetarians, avoid eating anything derived from animal products. However, they still may wear clothing or use other items which involve animals. This is essentially a vegan diet but does not take the vegan philosophy of avoiding all animal products. Often dietary vegans are motivated more by health reasons than moral or environmental arguments. 

Veggan

So you have decided to go vegan, but can’t get rid of your egg habit? If that sounds like you, you may be a veggan. We understand, eggs are cheap and a convenient source of protein. They might also be part of your breakfast or post-workout routine and hard to give up on. But did you know there are a lot of plant-based alternatives to eggs? Such as tofu-scramble or a mung bean omelette if you want to go soy-free. 

When it comes to baking, you can use flax or chia seed to make an ‘egg’. One tablespoon of ground flax or whole chia seeds and two tablespoons of water is equal to one egg for baking. It makes for a gluey substance similar to eggwhite and helps to bind the ingredients together. Don’t forget about aquafaba, the magic liquid inside a can of chickpeas. Aquafaba is high in protein and can be used as an egg substitute in many recipes, such as mayonnaise and even meringues. 

Cheagan

I have to admit, I was a cheagan for a long time before I could fully commit to the vegan lifestyle, and I still have my slips once in a while. The cheagan is vegan most of the time, and probably also promote themselves as vegan, but have a hard time conforming 100%. The next time you are seduced by a slice of pepperoni pizza or a not so vegan doughnut, don’t be hard on yourself and give up on veganism entirely. Try the next day again. Aren’t we all just becoming ourselves every day again (yes, I learned this during my last yoga class)? Choosing the vegan option 9 out of 10 times is still better than not trying at all. 

Beegan

Quite self-explanatory, beegans are vegans who eat honey and some insects. Most of us know by now that bees are an essential part of our ecosystem. A large amount of the fruits and seed-bearing crops we eat relies on pollination, mainly by bees. While beekeeping is used together with crop farming to help with pollination, the bees themselves need the honey to thrive. When beekeeping is done for producing honey, the honey is replaced with sugar water which is not as nutritious. Commercial honey operations also have a whole range of other practices that an animal lover should frown upon. Want to satisfy your sweet tooth? There is a whole range of alternatives: date syrup, maple syrup, molasses, butterscotch syrup, golden syrup, and agave nectar.

Ostrovegan 

Ostrovegans, or sometimes called bivalvegans, are plant-based but do eat bivalves. This is seafood such as clams, mussels, oysters, and scallops. They all have a two-part shell that hinges around a soft body inside. The reason why for some people it is morally justified to eat bivalves is that soft body inside doesn’t have a central nervous system. Therefore unlikely to feel pain. Besides, bivalves contain some essential nutrients that people on a vegan diet might be lacking, such as vitamin B12. The debate around including bivalves in a vegan diet deserves a whole post on its own, this blog post on iamgoingvegan.com does a pretty good job at explaining it if you would like to know more. (https://www.iamgoingvegan.com/ostrovegan-bivalvegan/)

Cheegan 

I hear this so often people, mostly from vegetarians: “I would like to be vegan, but I could never live without cheese”. The cheegan can’t resist the lure of French brie and can be found dipping bread into cheese fondue in a Swiss restaurant. I get it, it is hard to give up. Cheese actually contains high levels of a protein called casein that can cause dopamine release, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good. I must admit, the alternatives can be hit or miss, but there are some great options out there. Experiment and give them a try! 

You might fall into one of the categories that are not strictly vegan. But don’t let that discourage you, you will get there. At times, veganism can feel restrictive. In particular, because our culture, surroundings, and upbringing are not always supportive. It is all about the process. At Vegan Within we don’t judge. In the end, the point of veganism is more important than the definition of veganism. What kind of vegan do you consider yourself to be? And does it actually matter? And let me know if I left anyone out!

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Vegan Vs. Vegetarian: What is the difference?

Many people do not fully understand the differences between vegan and vegetarian diets. The difference between plant-based diets and diets that include animal products has been causing confusion. Vegans insist that they are different, which they are and often prefer to make a clear distinction between vegans and vegetarians, so here it goes. 

Vegetarian diets typically refer to an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet, which means a diet that excludes animal meat and fish but allows dairy products and eggs. 

Vegans do not consume any animal products, such as dairy, eggs, and honey, or products that use animals in the production process (think of animal testing for cosmetics). So this does not only exclude food, but you would also never catch a dedicated vegan wearing a woolly sweater. 

Another way of describing is, is to say that while vegetarians don’t eat anything that comes from a slaughterhouse or a fishing net. Thus not consuming anything that directly kills animals. Vegans refrain from consuming anything that involves animal suffering or the indirect killing of animals. The natural life span of a hen is 10 to 20 years, while in egg production a hen’s life is reduced to maybe 24 months. 

The difference between vegans and vegetarians is actually relatively straightforward. It becomes tricky and perhaps confusing when we start to talk about all the varieties that are in between. And then we are not even starting on the varieties of vegans.

The term “strict vegetarian” is sometimes used to describe someone who does not eat animal products. But consumes them in other parts of his or her life, for example, by wearing leather shoes. You can also describe this as having a plant-based diet. But just adopting a plant-based diet does not make you a vegan by everyone’s standard. 

Those who allow dairy products in their diet are lactose-vegetarians or lacto-vegetarian; they do not eat meat, fish, and eggs, but do not eat dairy products such as milk and cheese. Anyone who eats eggs but does not eat milk, cheese and/or other dairy-derived foods is considered an ovo-vegetarian. 

Then there are also the pescetarians, those who follow this diet avoid all meats but do eat fish and other types of seafood. Pescatarians do not meet the definition of vegetarianism. 

But why is it important to know the difference anyway? If we speak in terms of diet only, within each, you will have to adjust what you eat in such a way that you will still meet all your daily macro-and micronutrient needs. Further, each diet will have a different impact on the environment, with the vegan having the smallest environmental footprint of all. Even though this assumption is debated by some. In the future, I would love to dig a bit deeper and devote a post to this topic, as you can imagine I don’t agree and would love to proof my right.

However, veganism goes far beyond the mere consumption of food and extends into all aspects of vegan life. Some vegans choose even to exclude pets from their household because it goes against their vegan beliefs. 

Vegans often have a worse reputation than vegetarians, even though both get their fair share of backlash in the form of resentment. Vegans probably more so because they sometimes ooze an air of morally superiority and elitism for some. Obviously, I agree that we vegans are on the right side of the moral debate, I do understand the sentiment of some. We are not always the most welcoming bunch. 

I do wish that in a utopian future world, everyone is vegan and advocate for this. However, I would add the caveat that for a big part of the world population that simply is not an option yet. For some people, the milk of the community cow might be what saves their baby or for others living with animals is an integral part of their culture. But, for us, folk living in a place with easy access the vegan options and the economic room in our budget to choose these options, I see minimal arguments not to adopt a vegan lifestyle. Potential particular individual cases excluded. 

Besides, veganism can be quite restrictive for some and going cold turkey from careless omnivore to die-hard vegan might not be the right route for everyone. So, if vegetarianism or pescetarianism is your transition phase to a vegan lifestyle, all the power to you. Some of us just need a bit more time to adopt new habits and wean off the French cheese and Italian prosciutto. As long as we all get there in time to avoid the impending environmental doomsday. 

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