If the modern milk aisle leaves you glassy-eyed and confused, you’re not alone. Here is a quick guide to choosing between cow’s milk or a plant-based alternative.
Back in the day, there weren’t many substitutes for dairy milk. If you wanted a bowl of cereal, to lighten your coffee, or make a smoothie, tried and true cow’s milk was what you used.
Today, it’s a whole new ball game. Walk into any grocery store, and you’ll find an endless assortment of dairy-free alternatives, and it seems like there is new non-dairy milk introduced every week. Did you know camel milk was a thing?
Although dairy-free milk sales have seen a tremendous boom, growing 61 percent since 2012, are they actually better for you than the time-tested original?
Here is a guide to help you choose the milk that is right for you:
1. Dairy milk
When you look at the nutrient profile of cow’s milk, it’s easy to see why it’s been a staple in our diet for so long. In just one 8-ounce glass, you get a hefty dose of protein and essential minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins B and D.
Although the protein punch that dairy milk packs are enough to blow its dairy-free competitors out of the water, it’s not a suitable option for everyone. Whether due to lactose intolerance, milk allergies, or dietary restrictions, many people find themselves opting for dairy-free alternatives, for which there are plenty!
Nutritional info per cup of 2% milk: 110 calories; 2.5g fat (1.5g sat fat); 8g protein; 12g carbohydrate; 12g sugar; 0g fiber.
2. Soy milk
When it comes to nutrition, soy milk is one of the best substitutes for dairy milk. It has a creamy, mild taste and contains about the same amount of protein, but half of the fat, calories, and carbohydrates found in cow’s milk.
It is also one of the few dairy-alternatives that provides high-quality “complete” protein, which delivers amino acids that our bodies are unable to produce naturally.
Lastly, there is evidence debunking those rumors that claim that soy may be associated with certain cancers.
Nutritional info per cup: 110 calories; 4.5g fat (0.5g sat fat); 8g protein; 9g carbohydrate (6g sugar; 2g fiber).
3. Almond milk
Almond milk is an option for those looking to keep their calories in check. It has a light, sweet, nutty flavor, and compared to cow’s milk, it has less than a quarter of the calories and carbohydrates, half the fat, but a significantly lower amount of protein.
Although almond milk is a great source for vitamin E, it does not provide the same nutrients found in whole almonds, like protein, fiber, and healthy fats. This is because the almonds in almond milk only account for 2 percent of the product. The rest is mostly water. It is also not suitable for those with nut allergies.
Nutritional info per cup: 30 calories; 0g fat (0g sat fat); 1g protein; 1g carbohydrate; 0g sugar; 1g fiber
4. Coconut milk
Coconut milk is creamy and sweet with a subtle coconut flavor. It contains one-third of the calories found in cow’s milk and has significantly less fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Actually, it has one of the lowest protein and carbohydrate contents in the dairy substitute lineup.
This may be ideal for someone looking to lower their calorie and carbohydrate intake, but it’s important to note that almost all of the calories found in coconut milk are derived from saturated fat, which should be avoided in favor of monosaturated fats when possible.
Nutritional info per cup: 45 calories; 4.5g fat (4g sat fat); 0g protein; 1g carbohydrate; <1g sugar; 0g fiber
5. Oat milk
Oat milk is sweet and has a mild flavor. It has about the same number of calories as cow’s milk, about half the amount of protein and fat, and double the carbohydrates.
Its claim to fame, however, is its impressive amount of a soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It is also a great option for people with certain intolerances, as it is naturally free of lactose, nuts, soy, and gluten.
Nutritional info per cup: 120 calories; 5g fat (0.5g sat fat); 2g protein; 6g carbohydrate; 5g sugar; 2g fiber.
6. Rice milk
This is the least allergenic of the dairy-free milk. It is mild and naturally sweet in flavor. It contains a similar number of calories to cow’s milk and has substantially less protein and fat. It also has double the amount of carbohydrates than cow’s milk and about three times more than other milk alternatives.
While rice milk may be tasty, it is known to spike blood sugar levels due to its high glycemic index. Furthermore, it has also been shown to contain high levels of inorganic arsenic, which may cause potential health problems in those who overindulge.
Nutritional info per cup: 120 calories; 2.5g fat (0g sat fat); 1g protein; 23g carbohydrate (10g sugar; 0g fiber).
Choose what fits your needs
The bottom line is, while cow’s milk will most likely remain a staple in many people’s diets, there are a number of reasons that you may need to choose an alternative. When making your choice, it’s important to focus on what’s most important to you. Is it taste? Nutrition? Cost?
Whatever the case may be, there are great alternatives available. As long as you opt for the unsweetened varieties and choose options that are fortified with the good stuff like calcium and vitamin B12, then you can’t go wrong.
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