By Jennifer Benedetto MS, RD, LD, CNSC
As the old slogan goes, “Milk does a body good”. But what if you are lactose intolerant? Or Vegan? Does almond milk do a body good? What about Rice Milk? Alternatives to cow’s milk are now readily available but how do they stack up nutritionally?
Soy milk, which is made from water and ground soybeans, has been considered the closest alternative to cow’s milk because it contains a similar amount of calories and protein. Soymilk is often fortified with vitamins and minerals including calcium, so some brands actually boast more calcium than cow’s milk. Since soy milk is made from a plant, it does not contain cholesterol and has less saturated fat. It is popular with people who are lactose intolerant or vegetarian and can be used just like cow’s milk.
Almond milk is popular with the calorie conscious since it provides fewer calories than skim milk. Unflavored almond milk contains ~ 60 calories per cup. Unsweetened almond milk contains even fewer calories at 30 calories per cup. However almond milk provides only 1 g protein per cup, while cow’s milk contains 8 g per cup. Almond milk contains no cholesterol or saturated fat so it is an appropriate choice for those on a heart healthy diet.
Rice milk is a good alternative for those with a soy or nut allergy. But since it is made from rice, it contains more carbohydrates and would not be the best choice for diabetics. Like almond milk, rice milk contains no saturated fat or cholesterol and is low in protein. When shopping for rice milk, be sure to look for brands that are fortified with calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D.
New to the American market is a lesser known alternative to cow’s milk, hemp milk. Hemp milk is a vegan product made from water and ground hemp seed, the edible part of the hemp plant. These seeds contain no THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the related marijuana plant. Hemp milk contains more omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids than other milks and contains slightly more protein that almond and rice milk, 2-3 g per cup. Hemp milk is a good source of calcium and vitamin D and contains all ten essential amino acids. As for taste, hemp milk is said to have a creamier consistency and nuttier taste than soy or almond milk.
So, whatever your health goals are, there is likely a milk alternative that is right for you. Need more protein, choose soy or hemp milk. Want to lose weight by cutting calories, try almond milk. Whichever milk alternative you choose, however, be careful with flavored varieties, they contain added sugars.