All “Milks” Are Not Created Equal
Choices are great, but they can be overwhelming. This at-a-glance chart can help you understand what’s in your 8-ounce glass of milk.
Dairy: The Real Deal
Before you reach for a carton of almond milk, soy milk, or other dairy alternatives, it’s important to learn what you’re really pouring into your cup or bowl. Milk alternatives tout a nutrient or two, but they don’t measure up to the nine essential nutrients in cow’s milk. Milk alternatives undergo significantly more processing. The raw material is heated and then ground, mixed with water, ground again, filtered, fortified with vitamins and nutrients and then flavored to create a desirable product. With its three simple ingredients and limited processing, dairy delivers on what consumers look for in clean labels. Cow’s milk is the real deal – the original milk. Here are some of the reasons why milk alternatives are no match for the real deal:
- Milk alternatives, such as almond and soy, contain 10 or more added ingredients, including salt, stabilizers, syrups, thickeners and sugar. Cow’s milk, on the other hand, is pure and simple. Cow’s milk lists only three ingredients: milk and added vitamins A and D. Wholesome, nutritious milk is the result of the tremendous care that America’s dairy farmers provide their animals.
- The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee identified low- and fat-free dairy as part of a healthy dietary pattern. With the exception of fortified soy milk, the same cannot be said for milk alternatives which lack the quantity and quality of nutrients milk has, including vitamin D, calcium and potassium.
- When it comes to protein, a nutrient which ensures muscle health across the lifespan, dairy protein is the gold standard for quality. The quality of protein is determined by the amount of essential amino acids (those the body can’t make on its own) present in the protein and the digestibility of the protein. Dairy protein has a higher level of essential amino acids compared to other proteins like soy, almond or rice and it is completely digested, whereas other proteins are not fully digested or contain components which limit digestion.
- Cow’s milk products are the one of the richest sources of well-absorbed calcium which may be more readily available to the body to help build bones than the calcium in calcium-fortified milk alternatives.
- It only takes about 48 hours for milk to get from your local dairy farm to your grocery store’s dairy case. Alternatives to milk cannot compare to the freshness of dairy milk.
- Many consumers believe that milk alternatives are less processed than flavored cow’s milk, but that is a myth. Additionally, due to their additional processing, milk alternatives (such as almond milk) often have fewer nutrients than the unprocessed core ingredient (such as almond).
- Cow’s milk is both pasteurized and homogenized, but neither process has an impact on the nutrition package found in milk. In ultra-filtered milk, the additional filtering of milk actually concentrates calcium and protein and eliminates lactose, therefore lowering the sugar content. Even flavored milk, which undergoes additional processing steps when flavoring and sweeteners are added, provide the same nine essential nutrients.
Many milk alternatives use fortification to mimic the nutrients in milk and there is no standard nutrient profile across brands. Here’s how some of the most common dairy alternatives stack up against natural dairy nutrition:
- Soy beverages are made from soybeans and contain five to seven grams of soy protein, but the soy protein is a lower quality than the eight grams of high-quality protein found in cow’s milk.
- Rice-based beverages are generally processed from brown rice and are fortified with nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D. Rice beverages typically contain only one gram of protein compared to eight grams in cow’s milk.
- Nut-based beverages can be ground from any nut and the most popular is almond. Almond beverages only supply one gram of protein per serving and lack many of the natural benefits found in almonds.
- Seed-based beverages, such as hemp, are newer to the marketplace. Their nutritional benefit is touted to be their omega fatty acid content. Similar to the other beverages, they also fall short on protein compared to dairy nutrition.
As you can see, milk alternatives cannot stack up against the essential nutrients in milk. So next time you are in the dairy aisle, make the best choice with fresh and natural milk.