Milk Alternatives: Pros and Cons
Cow’s milk offers a generous source of protein, calcium and potassium, riboflavin and vitamin B12. Additionally, most cow’s milk is fortified with vitamins A and D. Milk is associated with improved bone health in children and adolescents. In adults, milk is linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, lower blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
For those who have allergies, intolerances or other dietary preferences, consuming cow’s milk is not an option. In these cases, what are the best options? Long gone are the days of the classic milk trio: whole milk, reduced milk and fat-free milk. The expansion of alternative milk has grown to include cashew milk, rice milk, almond milk, hemp milk, soy milk, coconut milk and pea milk. But does it matter which non-dairy brand you buy? How do they compare nutritionally to cow’s milk? Is it possible to obtain all the nutrients from these non-dairy milk alternatives? If so, which one will provide nutrients similar to cow’s milk? One of the benefits of drinking non-dairy milk is that it contains no cholesterol, which comes strictly from animal products.
Let us take a closer look at a few favorite non-dairy brands and some nutrients (all based on a one cup serving and 2,000 calorie diet). Compared to cow’s milk, which has 8 grams of protein, 350 milligrams of potassium, 30 percent of the daily value for calcium and 25 percent for vitamin D, the non-dairy milk brand nutrients include:
Hemp milk Hemp milk is creamy and has a nutty flavor that is great for smoothies and shakes. Hemp is derived from shelled seeds. It is one of the more recent non-dairy milk options on the market. Compared to cow’s milk, unsweetened hemp milk has half the amount of sugar and may be a good alternative for those who may be lactose intolerant or allergic to soy or nuts. Though it only has 2 grams of protein, hemp contains all of the nine essential amino acids. Hemp milk is fortified with vitamins A, D, B2 and B12. A downside to hemp milk is that it does not provide a sufficient amount of protein or potassium. Hemp milk contains 2 grams of protein, 0 milligrams of potassium, 25 percent of the daily value for vitamin D and 30 percent of the daily value for calcium.
Almond milk Almond milk has 15 percent more calcium than whole milk, no cholesterol or saturated fat. Almonds are naturally high in vitamin E and free of gluten, casein, egg and MSG. Although almond milk has more calcium than cow’s milk, it falls short on protein containing only one gram. Almond milk provides 45 percent of the daily value for calcium, 25 percent of the daily value for vitamin D and 35 milligrams of potassium.
Unsweetened rice milk Compared to soy and almond milk, rice milk ranks third for frequently purchased non-dairy milk alternatives. It is popular among those with soy and almond allergies and lactose intolerance or casein allergies. Although rice milk is a plant-based milk drink, it lacks sufficient protein (0.7 grams) and calcium (12 percent of the daily value). Rice milk provides 25 percent of the daily value for vitamin D.
Soy milk Soy milk has a more favorable nutrient profile, exceeding the calcium and potassium in whole milk. Soy milk is low in saturated fat and free of gluten, casein, egg and MSG. Unfortunately, soy is one of the top eight most common allergies among Americans. Soy milk contains 8 grams of protein, 380 milligrams of potassium, 45 percent of the daily value for calcium and 30 percent of the daily value for vitamin D.
Nutrient content can vary by the brand. The information presented is meant to provide a general idea of the nutrient content for the various milk alternatives. Look for brands that provide similar nutrient content for calcium, vitamin D and protein. If the product you select is not comparable to cow’s milk, incorporate other foods in your diet that are high in protein, calcium and vitamins A and D.