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Should you Choose a Milk Alternative?

Milk Mooves Over For Competitors – But Should It?  

Submitted by:  James Lesley

Edited by:  Marcia Bristow MS RDN CD

The average American drinks a whopping 34% less cow’s milk today than they did in 1970.1 In 2013, alternative milk producers saw a booming 15% increase in sales.1 Alternative milks are made from plants, such as soy, almond, or rice. They are growing in popularity and are quickly becoming a more regular part of some American’s diet.

This begs the question: Are these other milks are worth all of the attention they receive? Both types have benefits and drawbacks. So the next time you pop in to your local grocery store to buy milk, it will be important to consider these factors when making your decision.

Cow’s milk is a great source of naturally occurring nutrients, such as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and high quality protein. All are essential for a wide range of health benefits, such as maintaining muscle and bone function as well as regulating blood pressure. Some research suggests that the calcium found naturally in cow’s milk might be absorbed better by our bones to help them stay strong.2 Although some milk products can be high in saturated fat, low fat and fat free options are available and can be part of a balanced diet.

Milks made from soy, almond, rice, or coconuts do not contain lactose, a sugar found naturally in cow’s milk. These beverages are good choices for individuals who are lactose intolerant and cannot digest it properly. Plant-based milks also contain naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, but can vary depending on the source. For example, rice milk only has 18 milligrams (mg) of potassium compared to almond milk, which has 190mg. An 8oz glass of fat free cow’s milk will have 382mg. In addition, plant-based milks can potentially cost more and contain added sweeteners to help them taste better. All of these factors will depend on the brand and type of milk that you buy.

If you are thinking about making the switch to a plant-based milk, be sure to compare the nutrition labels of the available options. Look for overall nutrient content before you decide which one is right for your diet and lifestyle.

References

  1. Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy. Should you join the switch from dairy milk?Tufts Univ Health Nutr Lett. 2013;31(7):4-5.
  2. Heaney RP, Dowell MS, Rafferty K, Bierman J. Bioavailability of the calcium in fortified soy imitation milk, with some observations on method.Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;71(5):1166-1169.

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