Spurred on by the realization that I was contributing a lot of plastic to the landfill since they were no longer recyclable, I stopped buying cartons of non-dairy milk a couple years ago. When I stopped, I didn’t like the waste or the time it took to soak, blend, and filter nuts to make traditional homemade nut milk. So I began using raw nut butters, such as cashew, to make an easy DIY nut milk in a quick minute.
But in the last few months, I suddenly remembered another option that is arguably even easier and more accessible.
Hemp seeds as a food product are often overlooked in the nut and seed category. But what they’ve got going for them is that they are highly digestible, especially compared to most other nuts and seeds. And they contain a truly optimal fatty acid profile, with a 3:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids (1).
It’s important for us to eat a variety of fatty acid types from foods, but when it comes to the polyunsaturated fats which contain omega-6s and omega-3s, our modern diets tend to be less diverse and mainly have an abundance of omega-6s.
The omega 6 fats are found in large amounts in soy, corn, safflower, sunflower and peanut oils, as well as sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds, and nearly all nuts.
In whole food form, omega 6 containing fats are healthy and essential, but need to be balanced with omega-3 fats such as freshly ground flax, chia, walnuts, hemp, and if you eat fish, wild caught cold-water fish such as salmon, halibut, anchovies, cod, and sardines. The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3’s should be under 5:1 to be considered anti-inflammatory and for most individuals, this ratio is at least 20:1 or more in the daily diet.
If you have an inflammatory condition such as a chronic gut health imbalance, autoimmune conditions, arthritis of any type, and/or you are an otherwise healthy athlete looking to improve recovery between workouts, eating an optimal balance of omega 3s and 6s can be incredibly helpful.
Adding hemp seeds, and this simple hemp milk, can be another way to do this.
One other note about hemp seeds: try not to boil the hemp milk or the seeds – since they contain more heat-sensitive omega 3s, the oils will break down and oxidize – becoming inflammatory – at higher than medium heat.
Combine hemp seeds and 2 cups of water in a high-speed blender until smooth, about 1 minute. Then add in the remaining 2 cups of water and gently blend for a few seconds more. Pour into a quart jar with a lid and store in the fridge until ready to use.
NOTES: For a slightly richer milk, you can bump up the hemp seeds to use ¼ cup instead of 3 tablespoons. If you have an extra large blender, add all 4 cups of liquid and blend, rather than separate them. I have a smaller blender and prefer to give it a smaller ratio of seed to liquid to blend well.
References: 1. Da Porto, C., Decorti, D., and Tubaro, F. (2011). Fatty acid composition and oxidation stability of hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) seed oil extracted by supercritical carbon dioxide. Industrial Crops and Products, 36(1), 401–404.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.indcrop.2011.09.015.
Shortly after we all went into lockdown a few weeks ago, my running team had a group call with Sally Bergeson, owner/founder of the women’s running apparel company, Oiselle. Sally spoke about doing the work of Pulling Out Poisoned Roots, and since I’d just received the team journal for this year, and knowing that Sally is an activist and visionary on what are often the most controversial topics and particularly women’s rights and sport, one could surmise exactly the poisoned roots she was referring to.
I had recently re-begun examining my own poisoned roots, and thus have spent most of the spring working through old programming, stories about my own limited potential and unable-to’s that stem from their foundations in early childhood and youth. As I have been working though the next layer of this ‘brain training’ this spring—for beginning this process many years ago was one of the most important steps in healing my autoimmune condition—I’ve been daily reminded about how difficult it is to rewire the brain, to heal old wounds and stories we’ve been told or have told ourselves. And every single day, I’ve been reminded of my privilege.
For I’m in a place right now where I have the ability to prioritize this type of self-work. My basic needs are met. I’m in a place of relative health. I don’t have unconscious or blatant systemic biases working against me. And I’ve thought about those that come from experiences of more extreme trauma—for a refresher on the impact of childhood trauma has also been part of my spring quarantine for my part-time public health role. How for individuals who’ve experienced extreme trauma, if they ever get to a point in life where they have the resources to undergo this type of psychological training, how much more difficult, how much more healing, they need.
For as much as it’s a nice thought that we’re all simply different shades in a crayon box—a saying I’ve seen a few times the past couple weeks—the circumstances we each are given make that a phrase that is naïve to the reality of our lives.
Today I’ll share a little story about that as it relates to dairy foods, who is supposed to consume them (everyone) as opposed to who can actually digest and absorb them (mostly white, non-minorities without other health problems). This is a mostly nutritional but also partly political post, but the end result is an incredibly easy DIY non-dairy ‘milk’ recipe with just a couple ingredients (nut or seed butter, water, pinch of salt). Since I’ve spent more than a decade immersed in public health and the politics of food systems before going into clinical nutrition, this is my way of combining and educating through a lens that speaks to all of them – if you’d rather just get the recipe, feel free to simply skip to the end.
Whenever I have both the blender and the nut butter jar out, William tends to ask me if it’s time to milk my nuts. It’s a slightly humorous household joke, but without fail it reminds me of long-ago days in childhood when I watched my mom do a similar yet more complicated process of filtering the cream from fresh milk from our milk cow, Betsy. I was always fascinated and yet disgusted at the same time because for whatever reason, I did outgrow my early childhood dairy allergy for a while, but the smell and taste still repulsed me, leading to routine sessions of sitting extra-long at the kitchen table until my stubbornness gave way and I figured out a way to make myself gag the milk down.
Nowadays, I’m routinely reminded how times are a little different. In my parent’s era, making their children drink their milk portions every day was a necessity. How else was I to grow strong bones? Also, dairy farming is in my family history. I say things are different because there are a plethora of non-dairy milks available nowadays, so much so that dairy farmers in our country are struggling as never before. We now know that many individuals really struggle to digest dairy, whether because of lactose intolerance or a dairy protein allergy, as I have.
Lactose, the sugar in milk, requires the enzyme lactase to digest and absorb it properly, and it’s now well known that many populations worldwide, particularly individuals of East Asian and West African descent, are less likely to have the lactase enzyme. Additionally, this enzyme can become faultier as one ages, so lactose intolerance can arise in adulthood, making certain milk products challenging. All in all, approximately 65 percent of the population worldwide has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy, yet only about five percent of individuals of Northern European descent are lactose intolerant.
On the dairy protein sensitivity/allergy side of the equation, the reasons for its increasing prevalence are fairly widespread. We can develop an immune response to virtually any food, and the overload of disruptive environmental contaminants (toxic air, water, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, etc.), as well as high stress and imbalanced lifestyles (think lots of work, not enough sleep and nutritionally balanced meals), can wreak havoc on our digestive systems and over time the body begins to build antibodies to everyday foods that we could handle before. For individuals with seasonal environmental allergies, as well as those that generally tend to have excess mucous and feel ‘puffy,’ they often feel quite a bit better after removing dairy—since it’s protein structure can be tough to digest and therefore increases inflammation throughout the body.
So in our current global circumstances, there are a lot of individuals who are intolerant to dairy for varying reasons, or for environmental or other personal reasons are choosing to avoid it. And yet in the USDA’s MyPlate, the official dietary recommendation put out by the US Government, dairy is a food group that all individuals are recommended to consume daily, since one’s daily calcium needs are easily met with 3-4 servings of milk or similar dairy products. I still teach nutrition classes part time in a USDA-funded public health role in my local community, and it has frustrated me time and again to have to teach a model of nutrition that only ‘fits’ the needs of a certain (ahem, mostly white) population. This is an example of systemic bias at work – and also showcases the lobbying role of the dairy industry in making our federal government’s nutritional guidelines.
While recognizing that calcium is an important nutrient to consume in adequate amounts lifelong–adults need approximately 1000-1200 mg per day depending on gender, age, and activity level–there are other ways to consume it, like ample calcium-rich leafy greens. Those are often my first recommendation, because they have a calcium bioavailability similar and perhaps even better than dairy milk. We also need the many other nutrients that make up balanced bone metabolism including Vitamins A, C, D, K, B-vitamins, other minerals such as magnesium, zinc, copper, phosphorus, boron, manganese, potassium, iron, vanadium, and more. Eating lots of leafy greens as part of a balanced whole-food diet happens to also include many of that plethora of nutrients also.
There are several more foods on my bone support and maintenance list, and one of those categories is rotating through many different nuts and seeds. Sesame seeds and tahini, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, almonds and cashews particularly. None of these on their own will supply your daily calcium needs – if avoiding dairy, you need to eat diverse and greens-heavy meals for that – they do provide a range of many other bone supporting nutrients.
Today, let’s focus on the alternative to milk when one is looking for the texture and mouthfeel of using milk, such as in an extra-creamy porridge, cooked grains, to top your evening cereal fix, or to round out a smoothie. That’s when I’ve been reaching for my blender, nut butter jar, and the time to milk nuts scenario. Bonus points for no longer adding to the overflowing milk-carton collection in my laundry room that is supposedly recyclable during certain days of the year, but will more likely end up in the trash.
As a little aside, if it wasn’t clear from the above, I’m not overtly anti-dairy or a proponent that all of us should follow a dairy-free lifestyle, but I strongly believe in individual nutrition and not one-size-fits-all viewpoints that are already biased towards certain groups in power and with privilege.
The Easiest DIY Non-Dairy Milk, makes 3 cups For this, I recommend starting with raw nut/seed butter with zero other ingredients. Currently, I prefer Artisana Organics brand, which also happens to source from local California farms when possible and commits to sustainable and fair-trade ingredients. There are other brands that are similar, so do your research and learn where your food comes from. For nutritional diversity, I recommend rotating through a different type of nut or seed each jar or batch you use.
1-2 Tbs. raw nut/seed butter (raw cashew, almond, sunflower, or pumpkin butter, or raw tahini) 3 cups water pinch of salt
In a high speed blender, combine 1 to 2 tablespoons of your raw nut/seed butter of choice with 1 cup water. I prefer using 1 Tbs. for each batch, but doubling the amount will make for a creamier milk. Blend for about 1 minute until the nut butter is completely worked into the water.
Then add 2 more cups of water, a pinch of salt, and pour out into a glass container. That’s it. You’re done and ready to use!
Store extra in the fridge and remember to shake/stir before each use as particulates will settle in the bottom.
This information does not intend to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.
Currently, I’m smack in the middle of a sweet and tangy quick-pickle phase and thin slices of vinegary vegetables have been going on everything. Seriously, everything. Falafel, rainbow salad, beet and lentil flatbreads, as a taco topping, in lieu of salad dressing, on quick grain and lentil leftover jumbles, and even at a super fancy restaurant meal last week for my birthday.
I began this phase by pickling a batch of onions but have had radishes in the vegetable bin non-stop since March. Radishes are one of the quickest, easiest, and earliest of spring vegetables to grow and their vibrant parade of reds, pinks, and neon purples have had me purchasing a bunch each week when waiting for my own to grow. I had been tossing them into just about everything and threw a few thin slices into the quick-pickle jar one day. If I ever had enough beets around for long enough, I’d quick-pickle them as well and am planning to hop on over to pickling creamy spring turnips next because all the spring root vegetables and a jar of slightly sweetly spiced vinegar is a quick and definite thing!
Have I convinced you yet? If not, come on over and I’ll hand you a jar and fork and change your mind forever. But please, don’t even think about smelling my breath–It’s vinegary!
The Recipe Redux challenged us to a DIY recipe this month and I’m especilly excited about these quick-pickles because William has gotten on board and he is was not a pickled-anything fan. They are super easy to make and can liven up almost any sort of dish (I’m making fava burgers next–you better believe these are going all up on them!) If you’ve got a few minutes, some sort of vegetable (of the root variety preferred) and vinegar, you’ve got yourself quick-pickles.
Okay, I’ll stop chattering now. But only because I’ve got another batch of these to make.