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You are here: Home Section Table Parenting Rice, Soy, Oat, Almond, Coconut, Hemp, Kefir and Good Ol’ Cow’s Milk: Which Milk is Best?
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Rice, Soy, Oat, Almond, Coconut, Hemp, Kefir and Good Ol’ Cow’s Milk: Which Milk is Best?

milkIt’s a conundrum – on the one hand children need to drink milk – but on the other, what kind of milk should they be drinking? The questioning begins at birth. Pediatricians warn new mothers to be sure babies get enough milk after they’re weaned from breast milk or formula. Yet too much milk could interfere with the absorption of other minerals. If the baby is cranky, is lactose the problem? If you substitute soy milk will the estrogens in the milk harm baby girls? How about coconut milk? Everyone seems to be drinking that but what about the saturated fat? And almond milk is also popular with kids but does it contain Vitamin D? What about oat milk or even hemp milk? And should we heed the advice of the FDA commissioner who said these “milks” shouldn’t even be called milk because the nutritional makeup is different and “an almond doesn’t lactate.”

The sale of non-dairy milk increased 61% between 2012 and 2017 while dairy milk sales have been steadily decreasing. The information overload can be overwhelming, so here is what our research showed on the data about dairy alternatives. Is there any reason to even look beyond milk from cows for ourselves and our children?

Soy milk was one of the first non-dairy milk alternatives to become commercially available. Soy milk is shelf-stable until it’s opened and contains about the same amount of complex proteins as milk but with less carbohydrates and saturated fats as compared to whole milk. Soy milk has fiber and has a better overall nutritional make up than almond, rice or coconut milk. It is higher in fat than low-fat milk options and also lower in calcium as compared to dairy milk. Soy milk contains phytoestrogens which research shows may be a hormone disrupter. For a person who can’t consume dairy for health reasons, from a nutritional standpoint Soy milk has the most similar make up to cow’s milk
Almond milk comes in sweetened and unsweetened flavors, like vanilla. Almond milk is very low in calories, has 0 grams of carbohydrates and sugars and provides even more calcium per serving than cow’s milk. Almond milk has no cholesterol or lactose, so this is a good milk alternative for people who are lactose intolerant. It is low in sodium and has magnesium, selenium and vitamin E, all which benefit the body. On the other hand, almond milk is very low in protein compared to soy milk or cow’s milk. It is readily available at most markets and coffee shops, usually for an upcharge.

Oat milk originated in Sweden and is quickly gaining in popularity at coffee shops across the U.S. It can be made at home easily with oats and water but will not be fortified with vitamins A, D, B12 and calcium like manufactured oat milk. Oat milk comes flavored or unflavored. It is high in fiber and beta-glucans which can help boost the immune system but is low in protein and minerals. Oat milk is a good option for people with dairy, nut or soy allergies but is relatively very expensive.

Coconut milk is not actually sold as the milk inside of the coconut. The meat of a coconut is shredded and simmered in water. The fat-rich cream layer is then combined with coconut water to make creamy tasting coconut milk. Although coconut milk is low in calories, it is high in saturated fat and has no protein. Taste-wise, coconut milk easily replaces cow’s milk in recipes.

Rice milk is the most hypoallergenic of the milk options but is also the sweetest and therefore higher in carbohydrates and calories. It is low in fat and contains high levels of magnesium but doesn’t contain as much calcium or protein as dairy. Rice milk is readily available at most markets and coffee shops as a dairy alternative at a higher cost.

Hemp milk is a creamier tasting milk alternative. Made from hemp seeds, hemp milk is filled with omega-3 fatty acids which benefits people who have cholesterol or high blood pressure concerns. Hemp milk has a higher fat content than other milk alternatives. Hemp anything is a very trendy nutritional additive right now.

Cow's milk is high in protein and complete proteins which means it has all the essential amino acids the body needs to synthesize protein. It is loaded with calcium (so is good for the bones) as well as vitamin B12 and is fortified with Vitamin D. Dairy has been shown to help prevent tooth decay, particularly in children. Whole milk has saturated fat, but lower fat milks are readily available. Milk is relatively inexpensive and even organic milk tends to be priced lower than milk alternatives. The American Academy of Pediatrics still recommends cow’s milk for growing children.

MilkChart

There is a lot of misinformation about milk online and as the non-dairy milk industry grows, so does the marketing against the dairy industry. So, is drinking and eating dairy contributing to better health or is it putting our health at risk? Vasanti Malik, a nutrition research scientist with the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health says, “Dairy isn’t necessary in the diet for optimal health, but for many people, it is the easiest way to get the calcium, vitamin D, and protein they need to keep their heart, muscles, and bones healthy and functioning properly.”

There is a lot of information out there on the health risks of dairy from websites or groups that do not base their findings on published, peer-reviewed research. Research shows that unless a person has a sensitivity to cow’s milk, the proven health benefits outweigh the risks that have yet to be proven.

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