Dairy milk comes from cows, goats, sheep, and camels, among other mammals. It contains a wide range of nutrients that may have a number of health benefits. Milk substitutes are also available.
For a variety of reasons, many people have stopped drinking animal-derived milk. Some people cannot drink dairy milk due to allergies or lactose intolerance, while others follow a vegan diet and believe that eating animal products is unethical.
As a result, there are now a variety of non-standard dairy milk and non-dairy milk substitutes on the market.
Each one differs in terms of nutritional value, flavor, color, and texture. Plant sources, such as nuts, seeds, and grains, are used to make non-dairy products.
We’ll look at the different options and their nutritional value in this article.
People who don’t want to drink dairy milk can choose from a variety of milk alternatives.
One 8-ounce (240-gram) cup of low-fat (2%) dairy milk contains the following ingredients:
Soy milk is a popular dairy-free alternative. Soy milk has been used in China since 1365, according to historians. For centuries, soy milk has been a staple of many cultures’ diets.
Today, manufacturers make soy milk from soybean extract using techniques that are similar to those used in the past. Sweetened, unsweetened, and flavored milks, such as chocolate and vanilla, are all available. There are also low-fat and full-fat varieties available.
In the same way that dairy milk is fortified with calcium, vitamins A and D, and riboflavin, soy milk is frequently fortified. It also has a similar amount of protein per serving as dairy milk, making it the most nutritionally comparable alternative to cow’s milk.
Plain soy milk contains the following nutrients in one cup (or 244 g):
- 105 calories
- 12 g of carbohydrate, including 8.91 g of sugar
- 6.34 g of protein
- 3.59 g of fat
- 2.68 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D
- 2.07 mcg of vitamin B-12
- 300 milligrams (mg) of calcium
- 298 mg of potassium
- 0 mg of cholesterol
- 0.488 g of fiber
Depending on the flavor, whether it is sweetened, and whether it contains any additional vitamins and minerals added during the fortification process, different brands of soy milk will have slightly different compositions.
Isoflavones, which are natural antioxidants, are found in soy milk, making it unique. Isoflavones have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease. According to a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, consuming at least 10 mg of isoflavones per day is linked to a 25% reduction in breast cancer recurrence. Isoflavones are found in about 25 mg per serving of soy milk.
Women may benefit from soy consumption during and after menopause. Phytoestrogens are compounds found in soy that may mimic estrogen’s activity in the body. According to a 2015 review and meta-analysis, these compounds may help relieve some of the symptoms of menopause without causing serious side effects.
Consumption of soy, according to the North American Menopause Society, may help to reduce hot flashes. However, because people process phytoestrogens from soy in different ways, it’s important to keep track of any changes in your body after increasing your soy intake. Soy may have anti-estrogenic properties.
Some soy milk contains soy that has been genetically modified (GMO). Organic soy milk, also known as “non-genetically modified organism” (non-GMO) soy milk, is widely available. The nutritional value of both options is the same.
Soy milk isn’t a good substitute for breastmilk or formula.
Another popular alternative is almond milk, which is made of ground almonds, water, and, in most cases, a sweetener. Almond milk may also be fortified with vitamins and minerals by the manufacturer. It has a creamy texture that resembles dairy milk.
Only about 1.02 g of protein would be found in a cup of sweetened almond milk. This is a fraction of the protein found in dairy and soy milk.
Almonds have a lot of vitamin E in them. Vitamin E is commonly found in fortified almond milk. It does, however, contain more water than almonds. Almonds are a better source of vitamin E than other nuts.
Unless fortified, almond milk lacks the vitamin, mineral, and fatty acid content of dairy milk. As a result, unless fortified, it is not a suitable substitute for breastmilk or formula for infants.
Almond milk may have fewer calories than cow’s milk depending on the amount of sugar added. Different brands have different amounts of almonds and additional nutrients. It is best to check the information on the package before buying it.
When making ice cream and other desserts, some people use almond milk. Cashew, hazelnut, and walnut milk are examples of other nut milks.
More information about whether almond milk is safe for infants can be found here.
Rice milk may be a suitable alternative for people who are allergic to or intolerant to certain foods. Soy, gluten, and nuts are frequently absent. Anyone with a food allergy, however, should read the label before eating it.
Rice milk is made up of three ingredients: boiled rice, brown rice syrup, and brown rice starch. When compared to dairy milk, rice milk is high in carbohydrates and low in protein. The number of calories depends on whether or not sweeteners have been added by the manufacturers.
1 cup of plain rice milk contains the following nutrients, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):
- 115 calories
- 2.37 g of fat
- 22.4 g of carbs
- 0.68 g of protein
- 288 mg of calcium
- 26.8 mg of magnesium
- 65.9 mg of potassium
- 154 mcg of vitamin A
- 2.44 mcg of vitamin D2 and D3
- 0 mg of cholesterol
Rice milk is often thin and watery, making it unsuitable for cooking and baking.
Calcium isn’t naturally abundant in this type of milk. If you’re going to replace cow’s milk with rice, look for a calcium-fortified variety.
Coconut milk is the milk alternative that most strongly matches whole milk in texture. It has a high fat content, with about 5.08 g of saturated fat in a 1-cup serving.
Coconut milk is often a good alternative for those with multiple food allergies because it is naturally soy and gluten-free. It is, however, critical to ensure that the milk is produced in an allergen-free environment.
Because of its nutty flavor, coconut milk, like most nut milks, works well in baked goods.
Although it has a similar texture to dairy milk, it has a different nutritional profile. It will probably have less protein than dairy milk, depending on the brand and ingredients. Coconut milk contains 0.21 g of protein per cup, according to the USDA.
Other non-dairy alternatives
Other milk substitutes that have recently hit the market include:
- quinoa milk
- flax milk
- oat milk
- potato milk
- 7-grain milk, from oats, rice, wheat, barley, triticale, spelt, and millet
- sunflower milk
- hemp milk
Alternatives to standard dairy milk
Lactose-free dairy milk is available if a person has a lactose intolerance but still wants to drink cow’s milk. Lactose-free dairy milk has the same nutritional value as lactose-containing dairy milk.
Some consumers are concerned that milk contains hormones or antibiotics, but these concerns are unfounded. At the dairy farm, manufacturers test dairy milk for hormones, antibiotics, and other contaminants. They will not ship the product for processing if any of these contaminants are discovered.
Many people prefer organic, raw, and unpasteurized cow’s milk because of this concern.
Some of these products, such as raw milk, may, however, pose additional health risks not present in pasteurized milk.
Cow’s milk is a good source of protein, vitamin D, vitamin A, calcium, and a variety of other nutrients. Dairy-rich diets are linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure, according to many experts. Milk’s nutrient profile promotes bone health.
One 244-g cup of whole milk provides:
- 7.69 g of protein
- 149 calories
- 276 mg of calcium
- 24.4 mg of magnesium
- 322 mg of potassium
- 112 mcg of vitamin A
- 4.55 g of fatty acids
- 24.4 mg of cholesterol
If you don’t drink dairy milk, you’ll need to get these nutrients from somewhere else. Some milk alternatives have a nutritional profile that is similar to that of dairy milk. Many are calcium-fortified or naturally contain calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin A. Other milk substitutes do not provide the same nutritional value.
It is critical to read the packaging of alternative types of milk to understand the nutritional content.
Find out more about the nutrition and benefits of milk here.
If you want to replace dairy products, make sure you choose a non-dairy alternative that has the same nutritional profile as your current products.
People should always check the package label. Dairy milk and milk alternatives are frequently fortified with varying amounts of added nutrients, and milk alternatives are frequently fortified with added sugars.
People should consume milk or a milk substitute as part of a healthy, balanced diet that includes fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and pulses.
It is possible to avoid dairy products and get the same nutrients from other sources. A dairy-free diet can be healthy for people of any age with careful planning and the advice of a registered dietitian.
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- Verduci, E., et al. (2019). Cow’s milk substitutes for children: Nutritional aspects of milk from different mammalian species, special formula and plant-based beverages.