Soy beverage isn't the only alternative milk product on the shelves these days. Lately, it's been joined by rice, almond, coconut and even oat and hemp beverages. But how do they stack up to dairy milk? Can you get the same nutrients from the alternatives?
While these beverages (note they are not legally allowed to call themselves "milks") may be wholesome and nutritious, they just don't have the nutrition of traditional dairy milk. None but soy come close to providing as much protein as dairy milk, and most rely heavily on fortification to approach the level of nutrients provided in milk.
Alternative milk beverages are naturally low in calcium, with only about 10 milligrams per cup. Manufacturers often fortify them with calcium salts to bring the calcium content up to dairy milk, which contains 300 milligrams per cup. However, there is no standard fortification level required, so the calcium content in soy, almond, rice or coconut beverages ranges from 80 to 500 milligrams per cup. Some alternative milk beverages aren't fortified with calcium at all, so it's important to read the side panel labels.
Even if they are fortified, there is no guarantee that absorption of these nutrients is the same from these beverages as from milk. Some research suggests that the body absorbs about 25 percent less calcium from a fortified soy beverage than from dairy milk.1
Another important nutrient to pay attention to is protein. Milk in California has 10 grams of protein per cup; some of the alternatives (almond, coconut and rice) only have one gram per cup. This makes them especially unsuitable for young children, teenage athletes and seniors.
Milk is a naturally nutrient-rich food that provides many nutrients for a relatively small amount of calories. The nutrient powerhouse includes: vitamins A and D, potassium, magnesium and complete protein just to name a few. Milk has an irreplaceable package of nutrients that cannot be found in any other single food or beverage. Lactose-free dairy products are a great alternative for those who want all the essential nutrients found in milk and have trouble digesting lactose.
Dairy milk is a very affordable way to consume these essential nutrients. That's something to raise a glass to!