Got Milk (Alternatives)?

If you’ve taken a walk through the dairy aisle during the past couple of years, you’ve probably noticed a lot of new products popping up on the shelves, like oat milk or almond milk. As a lactose intolerant person, I have been enjoying this new variety of food options, but as a nutrition student, I wonder about the nutritional value of these products compared to cow’s milk.

If you’re lactose intolerant like me, you can get lactose-free cow’s milk. If you can’t drink any cow’s milk, there are many other options, but it is important to be aware of the differences in nutrients. Unless they are fortified with calcium, and vitamins A, B and D, you may find these are missing from milk alternatives. I have listed some significant differences below, but there may be others, so check the Nutrition Facts label of any products you are considering.

  • Soy milk is the most similar to cow’s milk nutritionally including having a similar amount of protein per serving. However, added flavors like original or vanilla have added sugars.
  • Almond milk has about ¼ of the calories of cow’s milk, but it is low in protein. Additionally, it is not fortified with vitamin B12 like other milk alternatives, so it may not be the best option if you are vegetarian or vegan.
  • Coconut milk contains more saturated fats, so it may not be the best option if you have heart disease.
  • Rice milk is an option for people who are allergic to soy or nuts. However, it has twice the carbs of regular milk and little protein, so you may want to consider other options if you have diabetes.

A note on dairy alternatives for other products: Increasingly, there are more dairy alternatives for other products such as yogurt and cream cheese. Many of these products will have a different nutritional value from the dairy products they are imitating. These differences are due in part to the type of dairy alternative they are using. For instance, coconut milk yogurt will be higher in saturated fat. However, some of these products may also have added sugars to make the product taste better. Always read and compare the Nutrition Facts label to ensure you are getting the best product for your needs!

Written by Anna Lauterbach, ISU Dietetics Student

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

More Posts

Nut milk, rice milk – Really?

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. These beverages should not be used as replacements for infant formula.

What is Greek Yogurt?

Greek yogurt is becoming more popular. Last week one of my friends asked me what Greek yogurt was…was it yogurt from Greece?

No, rather it is a type of yogurt that is more concentrated that what we are used to.  Manufacturers strain the yogurt and remove some of the whey which produces a thicker, creamier yogurt with more fat, protein, and calcium. Just like regular yogurt, reduced fat and fat-free versions are available.

Greek yogurt is more expensive than regular yogurt because it takes twice as much milk to make it. There are several varieties in larger supermarkets and specialty shops with Greek sounding names like Voskos, Oikos, Fage, etc. Yoplait also sells plain and flavored Greek yogurt for around $1.20 for a 6-ounce cup, and I read that AE Dairy is going to start distributing it this fall.

Yogurt is sometimes used instead of cream cheese or sour cream to reduce fat and calories.  Greek yogurt would be a good choice for substitutions because it is thicker. 

You can make your own “Greek” yogurt by straining regular yogurt. Just set a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth, a coffee filter, or a plain white paper towel over a bowl and spoon plain yogurt into the sieve. Refrigerate and allow the liquid to drain off for at least 2 hours. One cup of yogurt yields about ½ cup of Greek yogurt.

– pointers from Peggy

Needs versus wants applies to food

Recently, I did an educational program on Spend Smart. Eat Smart. for employees at a local public health department. A dietitian in the group shared a way her family could save money on milk:  “Get my family to drink more water and not always drink milk.” Some in the group seemed surprised that a dietitian would make that suggestion. What did she actually mean? Her point was that she wants her family members to drink the amount of milk they need nutritionally, but not necessarily more than that.

This brings out a good point when it comes to saving money on food…how much are we actually eating/drinking and is it more than we need? In the case of milk, MyPlate recommends that children ages 2 – 8 need the equivalent of 2 cups (16 ounces) per day and everyone age 9 and over needs the equivalent of 3 cups (24 ounces) of milk per day. At my house, the glasses we usually use hold 12 ounces. If I have two of those each day, I have met the recommended amount. For more information, see dairy – milk, cheese and yogurt.

This concept makes an even bigger money-saving impact when you are talking about meats. The daily recommended meat equivalent is 4 to 5 ounces for children aged 2 to 13, and 5 to 6.5 ounces for teens and adults. When you plan meat for a meal, plan for 2 – 3 ounces per person. This will encourage healthy eating and save you money. For additional information on saving money on meat or other protein foods, see meat and beans.

-contributed by Renee Sweers

Join Our Mailing List

Enter your email address:


Recent Posts

Posts from the Past