It is impossible to go to the grocery store without seeing milk alternatives. Lactose intolerance, food sensitivities, and increased consumer demand have led to a rise in the availability of non-dairy beverages. With the growing popularity of milk alternatives, the choices can seem overwhelming. Here is a breakdown of the most popular milk alternatives, how they compare to cow’s milk, and how to choose the healthiest milk alternatives.
Milk vs. Milk Alternatives
Milk alternatives contain less protein than regular milk. A one-cup serving of whole milk provides 8 grams of high-quality protein and all of the essential amino acids. This meets 60% of the RDA for toddlers and 40% of the RDA for young children. Milk is also an excellent source of Vitamin D and calcium which helps to support growth in children. For children, the fat content of milk is also an important consideration, as fat assists with brain development. The CDC recommends that milk alternatives should not be provided to anyone under 12 months.
Milk is regulated by the FDA. They mandate that cow’s milk is safe to drink and has consistent nutritional content. Non-dairy milk alternatives have no standard nutrient composition, so the nutritional content may vary from brand to brand. Some milk alternatives have not been fortified, meaning they would not contain any calcium or vitamin D. Milk contains many key nutrients, including thiamin, vitamin B6 and zinc, which work with other B vitamins to help convert food to energy. Milk also contains magnesium, which helps build strong bones, and selenium, which helps support the immune system. Additionally, milk is more cost-effective; milk alternatives are much higher in price than regular milk.
Popular Milk Alternatives
Soy milk is made from soaked, ground, and strained soybeans. These legumes create a milk-like texture that is suitable for heating. Soy contains estrogen-like compounds known as isoflavones, which are controversial, but more recent evidence suggests that soy has either a beneficial or neutral effect on various health conditions. Its high protein content helps bind ingredients together making it a great alternative for baking. Soymilk has a nutty, sweet flavor and can be sweetened or unsweetened. It is also the least processed of the milk alternatives. Each glass of unsweetened soymilk contains 100 calories, 9 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fat, and 6 grams of protein.
Almond milk is made from soaking, blending, and straining almonds with water. Almond milk is a popular option as a coffee creamer. It can also be used for oatmeal, smoothies, and sauces. It has a subtle nutty flavor. To improve the nutritional value, almond milk is typically fortified with additional vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, B12, D, and E, as well as calcium. One cup of almond milk contains around 40 calories, it is often the lowest calorie option available in stores. Almond milk is also quite low in protein compared to cow’s milk, it contains only 1 gram of protein per cup. It also contains 1 gram of carbohydrate and 4 grams of fat per cup.
Coconut milk comes from the fruit of the coconut tree, the milk is made by grating and boiling the coconut flesh, then straining any solids. Coconut milk is high in healthy fats, making it a great substitute for any full-fat dairy dish. Because of its strong coconut flavor, it is best used for sweet dishes or dishes complimented by coconut flavor. It can be used in puddings, cookies, curries, soups, sauces, and marinades. Coconut milk is low in protein but rich in potassium and magnesium, it can also aid in digestion. One cup of unsweetened coconut milk contains 45 calories. It also contains 1 gram of carbohydrate, 5 grams of fat, and 0-1 grams of protein per cup. This is also not an effective protein match for cow’s milk.
Oat milk is made from soaked, blended, and strained oat groats. Since it is produced using grains, unsweetened oat milk contains more carbohydrates than other non-dairy alternatives. Oat milk has many heart health-promoting properties and is high in fiber. It has a very creamy flavor and works best at medium temperatures, so it is not ideal for high-temperature stovetop dishes. The milk separates and is an ineffective binder. It is best used for dishes with soft textures. It can be used in baking, slow-cooker dishes, coffee, and sauces. Oat milk is rich in calcium. One cup of unsweetened oat milk contains 130 calories. The macronutrient breakdown is 24 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fat, and 4-5 grams of protein. Oat milk is higher in protein than most milk alternatives (with the exception of soy milk).
How to choose
Dairy alternatives are not all created equal. When choosing your milk or milk alternative consider if the beverage contains added sugar, emulsifiers, and other additives. When selecting a milk alternative it is best to choose an unsweetened variety. Also, consider allergies, soy and nuts are often allergens. Always analyze nutrition facts labels to determine the healthiest and most suitable products for your needs and preferences.
https://nutrition.org/going-nuts-about-milk-heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-plant-based-milk-alternatives/ https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/foods-and-drinks/cows-milk-and-milk-alternatives.html https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/soy/#:~:text=Soy%20is%20unique%20in%20that,estrogenic%20or%20anti%2Destrogenic%20activity.