Inside the milk fridge at the local supermarket, there are more bottles and cartons than ever before. Many of them now are not milk at all, but milk alternatives, made from things like soybeans, almonds, grains and rice.
It’s important to understand the nutritional impact of choosing non-dairy milk drinks. Sure, they have unsaturated fats rather than the saturated fat of milk, but they might be skimping on other nutrients. Soy or rice milk could be a great choice, but they can also be incomplete nutritionally. To figure this out, you’ve got to study ingredient labels. But that saturated fat issue needs to be highlighted. Whereas a glass of two-percent cow’s milk has 5.0 g fat and 3.0 g saturated fat, the same glass of plain soy milk contains 5.0 g fat and just 0.8 g saturated fat.
If you are going alternative, you should go for a beverage with vitamins and minerals fused into it. Calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc, and folic acid are common additions. It is only to your benefit to get these supplemented nutrients.
Can we absorb these fortified nutrients just as well as those found naturally in milk? It’s a good question to ask, and many people do. For vitamin D, the type used is a synthetic version that we don’t absorb as well as the vitamin D in milk. And on the calcium front, a supplemented version called “tricalcium phosphate” is known to sink to the bottom of the carton. It doesn’t stay suspended throughout the drink. It’s easy to get around this: shake the carton of soy milk well before pouring.
All of this doesn’t cancel out the point that fortified milk alternatives are better than non-fortified ones. Look for some that give you around 30% of your daily value of calcium and 45% of your vitamin D. Here are some details of the major options:
Soy milk: This is the most popular milk alternative. Because of its protein levels, it is about equal, nutritionally, to cow’s milk. You want to get at least eight grams of protein per serving. Watch out for added sugar, as it will dilute protein and add calories. Look past words such as “original’ and “plain” because they still add lots of sugar.
Almond milk: Almonds are packed with vitamin E, magnesium and unsaturated fats (among other things). These three ingredients mean the nut is tailor-made for heart health. That said, the amount of almonds present in almond beverages is low. It isn’t a bad beverage, but there is much less protein than in soy milk. Find a fortified drink and get your protein elsewhere.
Rice milk: This sweet beverage packs lots of carbs. Water, brown rice, and sunflower oil are the main ingredients. They are low in protein so can’t replace cow’s milk in that regard. You’ll need to find protein elsewhere in food. Most are fortified with vitamins and minerals, so be sure to pick a good one.
Due to the high protein content, soy beverages are the only true equal to milk. It’s not surprising, as they are the most popular and there are tons of brands out there now. If you’re sure to shake the carton before using, soy milk can be used in place of milk with nothing lost.