Not got milk?
By Nancy Oliveira, MS, RD, LDN
Cow's milk, or dairy milk, is no longer the only choice for this creamy white drink. Some people cannot tolerate dairy milk because they lack an enzyme to break down milk sugar, or lactose, which can produce stomach pain, bloating or diarrhea. Others have an allergy to the proteins in milk, which can cause hives, wheezing or vomiting. Milk allergy occurs most often in infants and often subsides by age 3, whereas lactose intolerance is usually seen in adults. People may also not choose dairy milk due to following a vegetarian/vegan diet or wanting to avoid hormones or antibiotics sometimes administered to cows in dairy farms. Furthermore, plant-based milks such as soy may offer beneficial phytochemicals and antioxidants.
The following are alternatives to dairy milk, which vary in nutritional content, flavor and cost*
Lactaid: Lactaid is a trademarked product made by McNeil Nutritionals. It is dairy milk with the addition of an enzyme called lactase that helps to break down and digest lactose. People with severe lactose intolerance may still not tolerate Lactaid milk. The calorie and nutritional content is the same as dairy milk but may taste slightly sweeter because the lactose sugar is broken down. Cost is about $2 more than dairy milk.
Soy: Made from dry soybeans soaked and then ground in water. Unlike dairy milk, it contains almost no saturated fat and no cholesterol. It contains the same amount of protein as dairy milk, 8 grams, and total fat ranges from 1 to 4 grams per cup. Available unsweetened or sweetened with sugar (which increases the calories). It is fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Cost is about $1-2 more than dairy milk. Its nutritional value is the closest to dairy milk.
Rice: Made from pressed brown rice and water, it is available plain or sweetened and flavored. It naturally contains no cholesterol, protein or minerals but is fortified with calcium, vitamin D and B vitamins. Calories range from 100-140 per cup with 2-3 grams fat. This is a popular choice for those with lactose intolerance and allergies to soy and nuts. Cost is about $1-2 more than dairy milk.
Almond: Made from ground almonds and water, almond milk has a nutritional profile similar to rice milk with no cholesterol, protein or minerals but which is fortified with vitamins and minerals and available sweetened or unsweetened. It tends to be the lowest in calories of all milks at 40-90 calories and 2-3 grams fat per cup. Cost is about $1-2 more than dairy milk.
Coconut: Made from grated and pressed coconut meat, coconut milk contains about as many calories and fat as soy milk but has more saturated fat than all milks, no protein, and is low in nutrients. Avoid coconut milk in cans (highest in calories and fat) and choose brands found in cartons near the other plant-based milks. Cost is about $2-3 more than dairy milk.
Coconut products are growing in popularity because of purported health and weight loss benefits. Butter, lard and other animal fats contain saturated fat that raises LDL or “bad” cholesterol. In comparison, coconut milk is rich in a special type of saturated fat called lauric acid that raises LDL levels but also raises HDL or “good” cholesterol. However, most health organizations recommend limiting all types of saturated fat. For more information see Ask the Dietitian: Is Coconut Oil Good for Me?
Bottom Line: Choose a milk that has minimal added sugar, preservatives and artificial colors. Read the label for the protein and nutrient content. Dairy milk adds protein, calcium and vitamin D into our diets. If your milk alternative does not contain these nutrients, be sure to eat foods in your diet that will provide them.
*Prices per half gallon as accessed on Peapod.com 1/2/2013. Note that prices for non-dairy milks vary widely; specialty stores (e.g., Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s) may carry lower cost brands than the prices quoted on Peapod.com.