By Dr. Mark Collins
Leominster Family Practice
A trip to your local grocery store will quickly reveal that milk isn’t just milk anymore. In addition to cow’s milk, there is now a wide array of alternative, plant-based milk options. Knowing more about how these products are made and their nutritional content can help you decide what’s best. For instance, some are much higher in either protein, sugar, calcium and vitamin D than others. You should choose an alternative milk that meets your individual nutritional needs. Keep in mind that milk alternatives should not be given to children before they reach 12 months of age. According to the CDC, fortified soy beverages are the only milk alternatives that should be used to meet a child’s recommended dairy needs. Talk to your pediatrician or Family Practice provider to learn more about which alternative milks make sense for you and your family.
Made from almonds and water, almond milk is totally dairy-free, but like most non-dairy milks does contain thickeners, preservatives and flavorings. While an excellent source of vitamin E, almond milk is low in protein. Keep in mind that some varieties of almond milk, such as chocolate-flavored almond milk, can contain a lot of added sugar.
|Unsweetened Almond Milk Nutrition Profile (8 oz)*|
|Calories: 35||Protein: 1 gram|
|Fat/Sat F: 3/0 grams||Carb/Sugars: 1/0 grams|
|Calcium: 450 mg||Vitamin D: 0 IU|
|Vitamin B12: 0 mcg||Iron: 0.4 mg|
One of the more popular non-dairy milks, oat milk is made by soaking whole oats which makes it naturally sweet and high in carbohydrates. Oat milk also contains some soluble fiber which can slow digestion and help keep you full longer.
|Oat Milk Nutrition Profile (8 oz)*|
|Calories: 130||Protein: 4 grams|
|Fat/Sat F: 2/0 grams||Carb/Sugars: 25/17 grams|
|Calcium: 121 mg||Vitamin D: 80 IU|
|Vitamin B12: 0 mcg||Iron: 1 mg|
When it comes to nutrition, soy milk comes closest to cow’s milk. Soy milk is high in protein and is popular among those who want a non-dairy milk that has a similar nutritional profile to cow’s milk. Some people may prefer organic soy milk, which is made from non-GMO (non-genetically modified organisms), soybeans, and free from conventional pesticides and herbicides. Keep in mind that soy is a common allergen, so soy milk may not be suitable for everyone.
|Soy Milk Nutrition Profile (8 oz)*|
|Calories: 80||Protein: 7 grams|
|Fat/Sat F: 1.6/0.0 grams||Carb/Sugars: 4.2/1 grams|
|Calcium: 301 mg||Vitamin D: 119 IU|
|Vitamin B12: 2.7 mcg||Iron: 1.1 mg|
Made from whole cashews and water, cashew milk has a rich, creamy consistency and can replace cow’s milk in most recipes. It is also rich in polyunsaturated and monosaturated fatty acids, as well as potassium and magnesium and some antioxidants. Like many non-dairy milks, you can make cashew milk at home. Look for the unsweetened varieties to avoid consuming too much sugar if you are buying in a store.
|Unsweetened Cashew Milk Nutrition Profile (8 oz)*|
|Calories: 25||Protein: <1 grams|
|Fat/Sat F: 2/0 grams||Carb/Sugars: 1/0 grams|
|Calcium: 450 mg||Vitamin D: 150 IU|
|Vitamin B12: 0 mcg||Iron: 0.3 mg|
Made from the white flesh of coconuts, coconut milk has a light, tropical flavor with a consistency similar to cow’s milk. However, it does not contain any significant amounts of protein. If you have a tree nut allergy, it’s usually safe to drink coconut milk. Look for brands that have been fortified with vitamin D and other nutrients.
|Unsweetened Coconut Milk Nutrition Profile (8 oz)*|
|Calories: 45||Protein: 0 grams|
|Fat/Sat F: 4.5/4 grams||Carb/Sugars: 1/<1 grams|
|Calcium: 100 mg||Vitamin D: 180 IU|
|Vitamin B12: 1.2 mcg||Iron: 0 mg|
Similar in texture to cow’s milk, flax milk has a neutral taste and is made without nuts, dairy, soy, lactose or gluten. Organic flax milk, like other organic non-dairy milks, is also glyphosate-free. Since it is made from flax seed, flax milk contains a healthy amount of beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids. An added benefit is that unsweetened flax milk contains no sugar.
|Unsweetened Flax Milk Nutrition Profile (8 oz)*|
|Calories: 25||Protein: 0 grams|
|Fat/Sat F: 2.5/0 grams||Carb/Sugars: 1/0 grams|
|Calcium: 300 mg||Vitamin D: 150 IU|
|Vitamin B12: 0.6 mcg||Iron: 0 mg|
Made from ground and soaked hemp seeds, hemp milk contains a significant amount of protein and healthy omega-3 and omega-6 unsaturated fats. Look for unsweetened varieties that don’t contain added sugar. Although made from the Cannabis sativa plant, there are no psychoactive ingredients that you need to worry about in hemp milk.
|Unsweetened Hemp Milk Nutrition Profile (8 oz)*|
|Calories: 60||Protein: 3 grams|
|Fat/Sat F: 4.5/0 grams||Carb/Sugars: 0/0 grams|
|Calcium: 282 mg||Vitamin D: 80 IU|
|Vitamin B12: 0 mcg||Iron: 2 mg|
In recent years there has been a lot more choice in milk that comes from cows. For instance, if you are lactose-intolerant, you can choose lactose-free milk since the nutritional profile is the same as regular milk (it’s just easier to digest). Lactose-free milk is available in reduced-fat versions just like regular milk. Organic cow’s milk is also popular and is free from pesticides, synthetic hormones and antibiotics. In addition, some organic milks have the added benefit of coming from pasture-raised cows with a completely grass-fed and forage-based diet, which many people find healthier. Another choice is A2 Milk. This type of cow’s milk contains only the A2 protein which makes it easier to digest than other cow’s milk for some people. A2 milk tastes the same as regular milk and can be found at many supermarkets.
|Cow’s Milk (reduced fat 1%) Nutrition Profile (8 oz)*|
|Calories: 105||Protein: 8.5 grams|
|Fat/Sat F: 2.4/1.5 grams||Carb/Sugars: 12.2/13 grams|
|Calcium: 314 mg||Vitamin D: 98 IU|
|Vitamin B12: 0.9 mcg||Iron: 0.1 mg|
*USDA Standard Reference
About Mark Collins, MD
As a Family Practice physician, Dr. Collins has a big interest in lifestyle medicine. “Lifestyle medicine uses diet and exercise to help patients improve their long-term health,” he explains. “The most common problems that I treat are high blood pressure, diabetes, and anxiety. These all can be improved with lifestyle medicine. I think getting people to eat healthier is one of the most important things a doctor can do.”
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