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  • Tamara Smallwood

What Milk Alternative Should You Choose?

Many people are making the switch to milk alternatives due to health, animal welfare, and/or environmental concerns. For more information on if dairy is actually bad for you, read our recent blog post by clicking here. If you are still wanting to choose a milk alternative, which should you choose? Each type of milk alternative has its advantages and disadvantages, which are all dependent on your nutritional needs and preferences - let's explore together!


Cow’s Milk

Cow’s milk is typically higher in fat, specifically saturated fat, and protein. There is a variety of cow’s milk to choose from, based on their fat content (ranging from whole milk to skim) as well as sugar content (for example, chocolate milk). Plain milk contains a naturally occurring sugar called lactose. There are new milk products on the market now with reduced sugar and increased protein content also.


Cow’s milk would be a good option for people searching to get the most nutrients, like protein, out of their milk. It's a great source of calcium and phosphorous, and is fortified with vitamin D in Canada - making it a powerhouse for bone health!


Whole cow's milk is recommended for children between 12-24 months of age. (If you are not wanting to give whole milk to your child less than 2 years of age, Health Canada recommends offering soy-based infant formula until at least 2 years of age when you can switch to a milk alternative).

If you are lactose-intolerant but prefer the taste and nutrients of milk to other alternatives, lactose-free milk is an option. Lactose-free products tend to be more expensive, a more budget-friendly option would be to buy lactase enzyme drops to add to regular milk so you can make your own lactose-free milk at home!

Soy milk

Soy milk is made from a combination of soybeans and water, and occasionally some fillers. As this milk is from plants, it is naturally free from cholesterol, low in saturated fats, and is also lactose-free! Soy milk boasts higher protein than other milk alternatives, making it a close equivalent to cow's milk nutritionally. Plus, it is also a vegan source of iron! Soy milk can also be fortified with calcium and other vitamins, such as vitamins A, B12, and D.


Soy protein has also been found to help lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of some cancers, click here to read more about the benefits of soy! Watch out for flavoured or sweetened milk alternatives as they will have extra sugars added!

Pea Protein Milk

Made from yellow peas, this milk alternative is even higher in protein than soy milk making it comparable to dairy milk. Pea protein is a vegan source of iron and rich in branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) which can also help with muscle growth and repair. Naturally lactose-free and free from common allergens like dairy, soy, and nuts this type of milk may be a good choice for you! Choose an unsweetened product with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 for added nutrition.


Rice Milk

Rice milk is made from milled rice and water. This milk can be a good option for those with lactose intolerance or allergies to dairy, soy, or nuts. Rice milk is lower in protein than other alternatives, but you can find products fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. Watch out for flavoured or sweetened milk alternatives as they will have extra sugars added!

Almond Milk

Almond milk is made from ground almonds and filtered water, making it naturally lactose-free. This milk is the lowest calorie option, because it is low in fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Choose an almond milk that has been fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 and watch out for flavoured or sweetened versions as they will have extra sugars added!

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is made from filtered water and coconut cream, which is made from grated mature coconut flesh. Although the name has ‘nut’ in it, this milk is safe for those with nut allergies. This milk is rich in fat and calories, but is lower in carbohydrates and protein. This milk also does not contain any calcium, Vitamin D or B12, so it must be fortified with those micronutrients. Watch out for sweetened or flavoured products as they will have extra sugars added!

Oat Milk

Oat milk is higher in protein and fiber compared to rice or almond milk, but oat milk is also higher in carbohydrates and calories. Oats are also rich in beta-glucans, a type of dietary fibre that can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels. Choose an unsweetened, fortified oat milk to ensure it is also a source of calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12!

Hemp Milk

Hemp milk is one of the few plant-based complete proteins, containing all essential amino acids and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. This milk is made out of hemp seeds from cannabis – yes the same plant used for marijuana and CBD products. Although this is true, it does not induce any of the psychoactive effects of marijuana, so no need to worry! Hemp milk is naturally lactose-free, choose one that is unsweetened and fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 for added nutrition!


Sources:

  • Sethi, S., Tyagi, S.K. & Anurag, R.K. Plant-based milk alternatives an emerging segment of functional beverages: a review. J Food Sci Technol 53, 3408–3423 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13197-016-2328-3

  • Chen, Chung-Yen, et al. “A Nutrition and Health Perspective on Almonds.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, vol. 86, no. 14, 2006, pp. 2245–2250., doi:10.1002/jsfa.2659.

  • Krans, Brian. Comparing Milks: Almond, Dairy, Soy, Rice, and Coconut. 5 Mar. 2020, www.healthline.com/health/milk-almond-cow-soy-rice.

  • Ferreira, Sanae. Going Nuts about Milk? Here’s What You Need to Know about ... 25 Jan. 2019, nutrition.org/going-nuts-about-milk-heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-plant-based-milk-alternatives/.

  • Röös, Elin, et al. “Producing Oat Drink or Cow's Milk on a Swedish Farm — Environmental Impacts Considering the Service of Grazing, the Opportunity Cost of Land and the Demand for Beef and Protein.” Agricultural Systems, vol. 142, 2016, pp. 23–32., doi:10.1016/j.agsy.2015.11.002.

  • Pimentel, David, and Marcia Pimentel. “Sustainability of Meat-Based and Plant-Based Diets and the Environment.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 78, no. 3, 2003, pp. 660–663., doi:10.1093/ajcn/78.3.660s

  • Sexton, A. E., Lorimer, J. S. P., Garnett, T., & Clay, N. Palatable disruption: the politics of plant milk. Agriculture and Human Values.

  • Sethi, Swati, et al. “Plant-Based Milk Alternatives an Emerging Segment of Functional Beverages: a Review.” Journal of Food Science and Technology, vol. 53, no. 9, 2016, pp. 3408–3423., doi:10.1007/s13197-016-2328-3.

  • Edinger, Jorden. Is Oat Milk Good for You? A Dietitian Explains This Trendy Dairy Alternative. 20 Sept. 2019, health.clevelandclinic.org/is-oat-milk-good-for-you-a-dietitian-explains-this-trendy-dairy-alternative/.

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