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Nut milk, rice milk – Really?

April 30th, 2012

I grew up on a farm and from what I know, milk comes from a cow.  It is that white liquid farmers “milk” for us humans before the baby calves get to it.  Cow’s milk is a good source of protein calcium, potassium, and Vitamin D (since all cow’s milk is fortified).

The “milk” from nuts, rice, and soy is not nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk. These types of milk are also more expensive. On the other hand, if they are fortified, they can be a good choice, especially if you are lactose intolerant or allergic to milk protein.

Here are some good things to know about the different types of milk you can find in the grocery store:

Soy Milk/Drink/Beverage: Produced by soaking dry soybeans and grinding them with water. Soy milk has about the same amount of protein and fat as cow’s milk and provides B vitamins, but it does not have calcium unless it is fortified.  Most soy milks are fortified, but some are not (you have to read the label).

The American Academy of Pediatrics considers fortified soy milk a suitable alternative for children who cannot tolerate human or cow’s milk or whose parents opt for a vegan diet. They find no medical benefit to using soy milk instead of human or cow’s milk.

Nut Milk: Almond or hazelnut milk are not similar to cow’s milk from a nutritional stand point.  They have little protein and almost no calcium.  They provide similar nutrients as nuts and are low in calories.

Rice Milk: Mostly made from brown rice and usually unsweetened.  Compared to cow’s milk, rice milk contains more carbohydrates, but does not contain significant amounts of calcium or protein, and no cholesterol.
Coconut Milk: Made from grated and squeezed coconut.  It is high in calories – a half cup has around 200 calories.  It can also be used in small amounts for cooking or on cereal rather than for drinking.

What’s the bottom line? If you drink non-dairy milk, be sure to find one that is fortified with calcium and Vitamin D.  Most of these beverages have lots of sugar, especially if they are flavored, so read the nutrition labels closely. To learn more about label reading, check out Label Reading for Health lesson on Spend Smart Eat Smart.  These beverages should not be used as replacements for infant formula.

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