There are many different types of milk on the market. With so many options, it can be confusing to decide which one to buy. Cow's milk provides many important nutrients. For those avoiding cow’s milk and choosing alternative milks, it is important to read all the ingredients. Alternative milks don’t all supply the same nutrients as cow’s milk. While the amount of calories and fat differ in cow’s milk depending on if it is skim, 1%, 2% or whole, a 1 cup serving of cow’s milk will provide 8 grams of protein, 12 grams of sugar, and 30% daily value for calcium and 25% daily value for vitamin D. The sugar found in cow’s milk is naturally occurring from lactose. Cow’s milk is also a good source of vitamin B12, phosphorous and riboflavin.
Most milk alternatives come in sweetened, unsweetened and flavored varieties. This is important to note because sweetened and flavored varieties will be higher in sugar than the unsweetened, and the sugar is usually from added sugars.
Let's look at the nutrition profiles of some milk alternatives.
Soy milk, which is made from soybeans and water, is dairy free, and has a similar nutritional composition to cow’s milk. A 1 cup serving of soy milk provides 8 grams of protein. The sugar content of soymilk will vary depending on if it is sweetened or flavored. Many soy milks are fortified with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, phosphorous and riboflavin.
Always check the nutrition facts label to see if the soy milk you choose is fortified.
Almond milk, which is made from almonds and water, is dairy and soy free, and lower in calories and protein than cow’s milk. Similarly to soy milk, the sugar content of almond milk will vary depending on if it is sweetened, unsweetened or flavored. Although it is made from almonds, due to the processing the nutrition composition of almond milk differs from the nutrition composition of almonds. With only 1 gram of protein per 1 cup serving, don’t expect almond milk to help you meet protein needs. Almond milks are often fortified with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin E, and therefore are a good alternative non dairy source of calcium.
Rice milk, which is made from boiled rice, brown rice syrup and brown rice starch is free from the top 8 allergens and therefore an option for those with multiple food allergies. Many brands of rice milk are now fortified with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12. Similarly to almond milk don’t expect rice milk to help you meet your protein needs, as rice milk only has 1 gram of protein per 1 cup serving.
Coconut milk, which is made from coconut pulp and water, is dairy free and free from soy. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, coconut is a fruit and not a nut. However, the FDA considers coconut a tree nut and therefore if you have tree nut allergies it is important to consult with your doctor before choosing coconut milk.
Coconut milk is higher in saturated fat than other milk alternatives. Coconut milk has no protein, and similarly to other milk alternatives, the sugar content will vary pending if it is sweetened or flavored. Many brands of coconut milk are fortified with calcium, vitamin D and B12.
Many people try to make their own alternative milks at home. It is important to note that when making your own milks, they will not contain the same vitamin and mineral content as store bought. This is because the nutrition facts on home made will vary depending how they are made, while the store bought varieties are fortified with vitamins and minerals including calcium and vitamin D.
Linzy Ziegelbaum, MS, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and owner of the private practice LNZnutrition LLC. She provides nutrition counseling and education to clients of all ages with many nutrition needs. Linzy enjoys sharing her love and nutrition expertise with others through counseling, her LNZnutrition blog and social media pages, including Facebook and Instagram.
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