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.

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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.

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