Here’s the facts on non-dairy alternatives
It's not only the selection of yogurt that is vast and expanded in grocery stores these days; milks and non-dairy alternatives are also quickly taking over store shelves.
Dairy and non-dairy alternatives are an important part of a healthy diet and can supply a powerhouse of 16 essential nutrients. What are the different beverages available and what do they contain? Read on to find out.
Cow milk. At nine grams of protein per one cup serving, this milk also serves as an excellent dietary source of calcium, vitamins D, B2, B12, and the mineral phosphorus. Cow milk is often quoted for containing those 16 essential nutrients, and as a result, plant-based protein milks are often fortified to contain vitamins and minerals in comparable amounts.
Cow milk does contain cholesterol, as it comes from an animal source. It also has lactose, the naturally occurring sugar in milk. Proteins in cow milk can be allergenic, and thus with a cow milk protein allergy this milk obviously needs to be avoided.
Goat milk. This milk is very similar to cow milk, but contains slightly more protein, vitamins A, B3 and B6, calcium and potassium. Goat milk also has lactose, but in comparison to cow milk, it is slightly less, and therefore it could serve as a substitute for those with lactose intolerance, as not the complete avoidance of lactose, but rather small amounts are the suggested dietary treatment. Goat milk can also be a choice for those with a milk protein allergy, however it can have a strong odour and distinct taste.
Soy milk. The creamiest of non-dairy milk alternatives, soy milk comes from a plant source, therefore it doesn’t contain cholesterol, and has a lower saturated fat content than cow or goat milk. This makes it a great choice for those who are looking to watch their cholesterol. In terms of a plant-based milk most similar to cow or goat milk, soy milk would be it. For females with hormonal cancers, though, or at a high risk, soy milk may not be the best choice, as its role in these situations can be controversial.
Almond milk. This beverage is lower in calories and sugar when compared to other milks, however there is little protein found here as well. About one gram per cup, in comparison to the eight or nine grams of protein in the animal-based and soy milks. Because it's derived from almonds, this milk is higher in the antioxidant vitamin E. It can serve as a substitute for a cow or soy allergy, but wouldn’t be suitable for an allergy to tree nuts.
Rice milk. This is the thinnest of all non-dairy milks. Rice milk is also the highest in carbohydrates of all the dairy and non-dairy milks and has even less protein than almond milk. Therefore it might not be the ideal choice for someone with diabetes. Being made from rice, it's cholesterol free, and can be a good choice for those with cow, nut and soy allergies.
Coconut milk. Coconut milk, coconut milk beverage and coconut water, are also very popular beverages on grocery store shelves these days. Coconut milk is made from blending coconut with water; coconut milk beverage, on the other hand is made from the watery liquid found in the centre of an immature coconut and usually mixed with sugar. Coconut milk tastes very good, but that is partly due to the very high calories (450 calories per cup coconut milk, compared to the 110 calories in skim cow milk) and fat (50g in coconut milk, versus 0g in skim cow milk) it contains. The coconut milk beverage (carton) would be best for drinking, whereas the coconut milk (canned version), is richer and higher in calories and used best sparingly for cooking.
There are additional non-dairy milk beverages which can be found on local grocery store shelves, including hemp milk, oat milk and quinoa milk. Should you choose a non-dairy milk alternative beverage, there are some additional things you'll want to consider.
If you decide to choose a cow or goat milk alternative, ensure your beverage is fortified with nutrients — at a minimum, calcium, vitamin D and B12. Be on the lookout for carrageenan, as well. This is a seaweed-based thickener sometimes used in non-dairy beverages which people can be sensitive to.
With any non-dairy beverage (i.e. anything but cow or goat milk) be sure to shake the carton well before using. Some nutrients can settle on the bottom or sides of the carton.
And last but not least, for the least amount of calories and added sugars, be sure to choose plain beverages instead of vanilla, chocolate or strawberry.
Amanda Burton is a registered dietitian in St. John’s. Contact her through the website: www.recipeforhealth.ca.