When you were a child, practically nothing beat a glass of ice-cold milk to wash down a few homemade cookies. But as an adult, you may have moved away from milk, even though it is one of the best sources of calcium you can find.
Maybe you do not like the taste. Or you are trying to cut calories. Or you get indigestion or a stomach ache when you drink it and have switched to one of the nondairy alternatives, such as beverages made with soy, rice, or nuts.But how do these other beverages compare to the real thing, and are you missing out nutritionally? Who should switch, who should not, and how do you find the best of the alternative drinks?
“For certain people, these alternatives to cow’s milk are a necessity,” says Roberta Anding, R.D., a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
“If you have a cow’s milk protein allergy, the ‘other milks,’ such as soy or rice, are a must,” she says. “If you are lactose intolerant [and have trouble digesting the natural sugar found in milk], these milks can also be a good option for you.
“Those with irritable bowel syndrome also find comfort or relief in finding an alternative milk,” says Anding. “Or, if you have gas, bloating, diarrhea after drinking milk, you might want to try an alternative.”
Deanna Segrave-Daly, R.D., a spokeswoman for the National Dairy Council, says consumers should be cautious shoppers when looking for a non-milk beverage.
“There are many different products, and the fortified nutrient profiles can really vary,” she notes.
The options are plentiful, and widely available, taking up shelf space at your local market next to regular milks. There is soy milk, nut milks, and beverages made with rice and grains.
“But,” Anding explains, “you will need to shop wisely to find non-diary beverages that are fortified with vitamins and minerals.”
“For example, with a nondairy alternative, you will not get vitamin B12, which originates from animal products, unless the manufacturer has fortified it,” she says. “Some do.”
“Before buying any alternative milk,” says Anding, “look at the nutrition-facts panel to see if the products are comparable with traditional milk.”
“While you will not get exactly the same nutrients, look for B12, vitamin D, and calcium. If the manufacturer has added those, you have a product that is in the same ballpark as regular milk,” Anding says.
“Milk is also a good source of riboflavin,” comments Anding. “Non-milks won’t be unless they are enriched. And most of these alternative milks are not a terribly good source of calcium, unless the calcium has been added.”
“Calorie-wise, a lot depends on whether the beverages are full fat, lite, or somewhere in-between,” Anding says.
On one point, the alternative beverages usually win out, she notes. They have less saturated fat, known to contribute to heart-disease risk, than whole cow’s milk.
Note Calorie Count for Alternatives
A comparison of a cup of soy milk and a cup of fat-free milk shows that soy milk has 100 calories, while fat-free milk has 80; soy milk has four grams of fat, while the fat-free version has zero; and both offer vitamins A, D, and calcium.
Milk and alternative-milk products vary greatly, so the best course is to compare the nutrient panel of the milk you usually drink with that of the non-milk beverage.
“There are some nondairy beverages fortified to almost mimic what is in milk,” says Segrave-Daly.
Expect to take a while to get used to the taste of the some of the non-milk options.
And expect to pay more, notes Segrave-Daly. For instance, at a SouthJersey market, a half gallon of Silk® soy milk was $3.99, and a half gallon of rice milk was $4.39. A gallon of low-fat milk was $3.39.
Always consult your physician for more information.
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