You’ve heard the slogan before… “Milk, it does a body good!” The healthy nutrients in milk are abundant- protein, calcium, vitamins A, D, B12, riboflavin, and the mineral potassium. Vitamin D is especially important in milk as it is harder to find in other foods, helps us absorb calcium, and most people (especially children) are not getting enough of this vitamin! And with no added sugars, cow’s milk continues to be a healthy option.
While some people go for a milk alternative since they worry about hormones in milk, rest assured, these are mostly natural hormones. But if it is a concern, choose hormone-free or organic milk.
As dietitians, we notice that more and more of our clients are looking for alternative milk to the traditional cow’s milk. Whether due to lactose intolerance, milk allergy, or concerns about hormones, many people are switching their milk. There is an increasing number of alternative milk options out there and it can be hard to choose a good substitute. Let’s explore some of the most popular options!
Milk Alternative Types
Soy milk is the most similar plant-based milk to cow’s milk. Boasting the same amount of protein as cow’s milk, as well as similar amounts of Vitamins, A, D, riboflavin, and more B12, soy milk is a great alternative. Soy milk comes in many flavors, and also comes in unflavored or “light” varieties. The flavored versions do add a lot of extra sugars, so be mindful when choosing this milk. Soy beverages are the only plant-based beverage to be included as part of the dairy group in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Brand to try: Silk Soy Milk
Oat milk is gaining popularity as it is the only plant-based milk to contain fiber, generally 2 gms per serving. In addition, it does provide almost half of the recommended daily value of both Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 which is especially important for those following a vegan diet. It also counts as a serving of calcium, which most people need 3 servings of per day. Oat milk is lower in protein with only 2 gm per serving, compared to the 8 grams in cow’s milk, so if giving to children, it is important to make sure that they have adequate sources of protein in their diet. Watch out for added sugars in these products as well!
Brand to try: Oatly
Almond milk is likely the most popular milk alternative, and widely available in all markets. This milk is a low-calorie and low-carb option of milk, making it a good fit for lower-carb diets. Almond milk is a good source of calcium and also has natural Vitamin E which provides some antioxidant benefits. Because of its thin consistency and softer taste, almond milk can be used in a variety of ways. Limitations with almond milk, however, is that it is very low protein, often containing only 1 gm per serving. Almond milk is generally not a good substitute for children as it does not provide the calories and protein needed to grow. A visit with a dietitian can tell you if this option can work for your child.
Brand to Try: Silk Almond Milk
A good alternative milk for those with food allergies, rice milk has a sweeter taste and thicker consistency. Containing only 2 gm protein per serving, it is still a lower protein option and does not contain a lot of the vitamins in a cow’s milk such as magnesium, potassium, and Vitamin A. However, rice milk is higher in carbohydrates for quick energy for kids and is a great source of calcium, Vitamin D, and Vitamin B12 when enriched. Generally well-liked by children, it is a good substitute when part of a well-balanced diet.
Brand to Try: Rice Dream
Yes, you read that correctly, hemp milk! Derived from hemp seeds, this milk is a better source of protein than most plant-based milks, providing 4 gms per serving. In addition, hemp milk contains all of the essential amino acids. It is a source of heart-healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. While lower in some of the vitamins found in milk, hemp milk does still meet ~15% of the recommended daily values for calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D. This is a great option for those allergic to nuts, soy, or dairy.
Brand to try: Pacific Foods
An up-and-comer to the milk alternative scene, pea milk is making its mark. Made from pea protein, this milk is slowly gaining popularity. While harder to find, this milk is a good alternative for those with allergies or following a vegan diet. Containing the same amount of protein per serving as cow’s milk, it also provides 50% more calcium. Another benefit of pea milk is that it provides DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid shown to provide heart-healthy benefits. Choose the unflavored varieties to avoid added sugars.
Brand to try: Ripple
How to choose the best milk or milk alternative for your family
Choosing a milk or milk alternative can often be confusing and challenging. Each milk provides some benefits but also may contain some drawbacks. Regardless of the choices, it is essential to make sure that your milk is part of a well-balanced diet. If you need help determining which milk is best for you and your family, come see one of our dietitians who can help put you on the path to success!
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