As a lactose-sensitive person, I have tasted just about every non-dairy milk ever made: hemp milk, macadamia nut milk, and of course, the old standards like soy and almond milk (personally, cashew milk is my absolute favorite). But every once in a while, a die-hard dairy advocate will jokingly ask me, "But how can you milk an almond?" And while I'd usually just roll my eyes at a nut-milk hater like this, the FDA has suggested that almond milk isn't "real milk," and now I'm left here questioning basically all of my life choices.
According to CNN, during a Politico Pro Summit on July 17, FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb questioned whether using the word "milk" in the names of plant-based drinks appropriately conveys the true identity of these products to people shopping in the grocery store, particularly because the nutritional profiles of plant-based milks can vary greatly from one type to the next, as well as from traditional cow's milk. One alternative suggestion is to call non-dairy milks "nut juice" to clearly communicate that these liquids have not, in fact, been drawn from the udder of a cow — but seriously guys, "nut juice"? Who's actually going to say those words out loud when talking about their plant-based purchases?
To some non-dairy milk proponents, this kind of relabeling is unnecessary. Michael Neuwirth, senior director of external communications for Danone North America, which owns the non-dairy milk brand Silk, told CNN,
Dairy and plant-based products are clearly labeled with nutrition facts so people know what's in the products and can choose the ones that best fit their dietary needs and preferences. We do not believe further labeling standards are necessary.
Of course, my girl Merriam-Webster has non-dairy milk lovers everywhere covered, because the dictionary lists two possible meanings for milk.
According to Merriam-Webster, milk is defined as a fluid that comes "from an animal and especially a cow used as food by people," and as "a food product produced from seeds or fruit that resembles and is used similarly to cow's milk." What's more, the dictionary even lists soy milk and coconut milk as examples, so take that, FDA.
In all seriousness, though, the discussion over what exactly to call these plant-based products calls for some kind of revision, because the FDA's definition of milk describes it as "the lacteal secretion" that is "obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows." Shudders over the use of the word "secretion" aside, given that this is the FDA's current definition of milk, it's easy to understand the confusion and the potential need for relabeling.
Regardless of whether you want to keep calling nut milks by their current names, or you love the idea of switching to "nut juices," one thing is for sure: Plant-based milks have some significant health benefits that, put simply, have nothing to do with how you refer to them. For instance, while the scientific research on the relationship between dairy products and acne is still sometimes debated, growing evidence supports the connection between skin flare-ups and how some people's bodies react to milk products, so making the switch may be an easy way to see if your skin is freaking out over your ice cream obsession, or something else entirely.
What's more, plant-based milks, while sometimes lower in protein than their dairy counterparts, are often fortified with many vitamins and nutrients that your body needs.
In fact, soy milk is not only packed with protein, it's also full of other good stuff: “Soy milk is high in protein, containing just as much as dairy milk," Jenny Watt, a nutritionist and personal trainer, wrote in an article for for the sports nutrition company MyProtein. "It is also full of iron, magnesium, and phytochemicals, and are often fortified with calcium and vitamin D.”
And BTW, the benefits of plant-based milks don't only affect your own body. Amazingly, they may support the planet's health, as well. “Enjoying plant-based milk is an easy way to eat more plants and lower your carbon footprint,” registered dietitian Maggie Moon told Women's Health back in February.
Regardless of whether the thought of drinking flax milk drives you udderly wild or mooves you to happy tears, if you're having skin troubles or just want to support the planet's health, give plant-based milk a chance — even if, one day, we're all calling it "nut juice" instead.