If you’ve strolled down the dairy aisle recently, you’ve probably noticed that there’s an overwhelming number of options beyond cow’s milk. In recent years, milk alternatives – made from soy, almond, coconut and other plants - have become neighbours to milk, and even mimic the size and shape of milk containers. But packaging is really where the similarity ends. The truth is, when it comes to cow’s milk, there’s nothing quite like it.
I’ve compared a variety of milk alternatives to cow’s milk so you can really see the difference and learn how they measure up. There are good reasons why I choose milk above all of the other alternatives in the dairy aisle when feeding my family. Here's why:
1. Milk is higher in protein
Many of my clients and readers are surprised when they learn that most milk alternatives contain very little protein – usually one gram or so, compared with eight grams of protein per cup of cow’s milk. In fact, cow’s milk is an excellent source of high quality protein. Milk alternatives made from almonds, hemp, rice, coconut and cashews are not good sources of protein, as this chart illustrates:
Milk (per cup)
"...there is such a small amount of nuts used in the processing of these beverages..."
You may think that almond and cashew beverages will be a good source of protein, since nuts DO contain protein. But there is such a small amount of nuts used in the processing of these beverages, which means almost no protein is retained. These alternatives are often mostly water and sugar.
2. Milk contains essential & important nutrients
With so many vitamins and minerals, there is no alternative that can match milk’s nutrient power. It’s chock-full of bone-building calcium and magnesium, and contains nutrients that many British Columbians don’t get enough of, like vitamin A, vitamin D and potassium. No milk alternative contains this wide array of essential nutrients. Milk alternatives can be enriched with some vitamins and minerals, but don’t equal the same nutrient profile of cow’s milk. Check the labels and see for yourself!
3. Milk does not contain added sugar
You may have heard that it’s important to cut back on sugar, and that’s true. You want to aim for no more than 12 teaspoons (preferably 6 tsp or less) of ADDED sugars in the diet each day. But wait – ADDED sugars? What’s that? It refers to sweeteners like sugar, honey, syrup, agave, cane juice, etc. that are added to foods, but this doesn’t encompass NATURAL sugar in milk (and fruit).
The recommendation to cut back on added sugars does not include milk sugar (lactose), according to the World Health Organization. Milk contains some natural sugar, but also provides protein, vitamins and minerals, which are vital to a balanced diet. Check sugar labels on milk alternatives – especially the flavoured vanilla or chocolate ones. They are loaded with ADDED sugar.
4. Milk is natural and local
As a millennial, I pay close attention to the food trends that resonate with my cohorts, and I know that eating natural, locally-sourced and nutritious foods is important to us. Guess what?
- no artificial colours
- added salt
- sugar or
and I know that’s what we’re looking for in our foods. Some milk alternatives contain added sugar, salt, thickeners and gums.
It’s hard to compare the calories and fat in cow’s milk to milk alternatives, because they can all range widely. Of course, the fat and calorie level changes in skim, 1%, 2% and whole milk, and that’s true for milk alternatives too – you can find ones with as little as 35 calories, or as much as 140 calories per cup. You just need to read the labels to compare.Next time you shop, check out the nutrients and ingredients on milk vs. milk alternatives.
I think you'll agree that nothing is quite like milk!