Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk! Comparing Milk and Other Alternatives
Updated: Jun 17, 2021
Choosing which milk or milk alternative to buy can be overwhelming, there are so many options available. So, how do you choose the right milk or milk alternative? Whether you are lactose-intolerant, have a dairy allergy, need a plant-based option, or have no idea where to start, there is a milk for you.
Why is milk important? Dairy is the primary source of calcium in the average person’s diet and a major source of potassium, vitamin D, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, selenium, vitamin A, riboflavin, vitamin B-12, and choline. The intake of milk and milk products has been shown to have many health benefits including: improving bone health, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, and lowering blood pressure. For those with lactose-intolerance or sensitive stomachs, there has been some evidence that having milk with a meal will help the body digest the lactose.
The five main food groups include fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services the dairy group can include milk, soy, cheese, yogurt, and other foods that contain animal milk or soy products. Milk options that are recommended by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) range from regular cow’s milk, specialty milks like A2 protein milk and lactose free milks, to the plant-based alternative soy milk. Other alternatives found in the grocery store that are not considered to be in the dairy group include almond milk, rice milk, hemp milk, cashew milk, oat milk, coconut milk and pea protein milk. These plant-based milks are currently not considered part of the dairy group because most plant-based milks do not provide a similar enough nutrient profile, they do not contain the recommended amount of protein per ounce for a dairy product and are usually high in added sugars. It is recommended by the USDA to have a milk or milk alternative with 1g of protein per ounce and limited added sugars and to consume 2 cups of dairy for those aged 2 years to 8 years in age and 3 cups per day for people 9 years of age and older.
What are my options?
Cow’s milk includes whole milk, 2% reduced fat, 1% low fat, or 0% fat free/skim, A2 milk, and lactose free milks. Regular cow’s milk is categorized by the amount of fat content that is in it, the lower the number, like 1% or 0%, the less fat.
A2 milk is a relatively new milk on the market; it is a specialty milk that is made from cow’s that only contain the A2 protein. Most regular cow’s milk is a mix of A1 and A2 proteins. Still being relatively new, there is not as much research as to why the A2 protein alone reduces stomach upset over the A1 protein, however, it is considered a good option for those with dairy sensitivities.
Lactose Free Milk
Lactose free milk is also a specialty milk made from cow’s milk but goes through an extra step during processing that removes the lactose, which is a sugar found in milk that causes some people’s stomach upset.
Soy milk is a plant-based milk made from the soybean. Soy milk is the only plant-based alternative at this time that is recommended by USDA and is considered in the dairy food group as it has a nutrient profile similar to regular milk with 8g of protein per cup and limited added sugars.
Pea Protein Milk
Pea Protein Milk is a newer alternative that has been seen on the shelves. Made from peas, this milk is packed with protein and has limited added sugars. It can be a bit more expensive, but is comparable in nutrients to soy milk if there is a soy or cow’s milk allergy.
Other Milk Alternatives
Some other milk alternatives include almond milk, oat milk, rice milk, hemp milk, cashew milk, and coconut milk. These milks are not considered in the dairy food group as they are not comparable in nutrients, but each has a different flavor profile and can be used in cooking to add flavor.
For a more detailed comparison of dairy and plant-based milks, check out the table in this article.
When choosing which milk or milk alternative is right for you remember to ask yourself: What do I want this milk to do for me? Whether it’s choosing an alternative milk due to a food allergy, buying lactose free milk because you are lactose-intolerant, or purchasing a milk because it tastes good, be aware of what nutrients are offered and supplement your diet with additional nutrients if needed.
It is important to discuss any diet or health concerns with your primary care provider or a registered dietitian.
Written by: Leah Bendig, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern
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