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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.

Not convinced?

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)

Protein (g)

Cow's Milk

8

Original Soy

7

Original Hemp

3

Original Almond

1

Original Rice

1

Original Cashew

0

Original Coconut

0

"There is ONLY 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 noprotein is retained. These alternatives are often mostly water and sugar.

2. Milk contains essential & important nutrients

Milk Graphic

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?

Milk is local, natural and 100 percent Canadian. I bet you never thought about it that way! It has a clean ingredient list -

  • no artificial colours
  • flavours
  • added salt
  • sugar or
  • fat

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!

Sarah Remmer HeadshotDietitians of Canada member blog 2018

Related Articles:

Expirmenting With Milk Alternatives?

Are There Antibiotics and Growth Hormones in Canadian Milk?

 

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  • Hi Aileen. Thank you for reaching out. You bring up some good points about calcium and protein being present in other foods. Yes, you can eat a plant based diet with beans, nuts, and even some leafy green ve... more
    Hi Aileen. Thank you for reaching out. You bring up some good points about calcium and protein being present in other foods. Yes, you can eat a plant based diet with beans, nuts, and even some leafy green vegetables for calcium, but the sheer volume one would need to eat of these foods to reach minimum daily calcium requirements makes this a difficult approach for many people, especially children. For most Canadians, the easiest solution is to include some dairy foods, and in fact, that’s what we see. Dairy contributes the most calcium to the Canadian diet. less
  • There are a multitude of ways to get protein, as well as Calcium without needing to drink milk. How do you think cows make milk. The only way they can is by impregnating them, and then when the calf is born, ... more
    There are a multitude of ways to get protein, as well as Calcium without needing to drink milk. How do you think cows make milk. The only way they can is by impregnating them, and then when the calf is born, taking it away from its mother. Really, are you sure that you want to advocate for milk??? I am quite sure there are many other ways to receive the nutrients that you propose milk processes. less
  • Hi Fahn. Thank you for asking. This is a great question. At the end of the day, organic and non-organic milk are both really good for overall health and in fact, their nutrient profiles are almost identical.... more
    Hi Fahn. Thank you for asking. This is a great question. At the end of the day, organic and non-organic milk are both really good for overall health and in fact, their nutrient profiles are almost identical. Organic milk does have higher amounts of fatty acids that are beneficial to our bodies, like omega-3 and some omega-6, but it is unclear at this point how much of an impact this difference will have on our health. In the end, it is up to you what you want to drink. Either choice will be great! less
  • Very informative, thank you. What is the difference between organic milk and non organic milk besides the $3 difference?
  • Hi Tamara. Great question. Lactose free milk or lactose reduced milk has the same nutrient value as milk, because they are both real cow's milk. The difference is the enzyme called lactase has been added to ... more
    Hi Tamara. Great question. Lactose free milk or lactose reduced milk has the same nutrient value as milk, because they are both real cow's milk. The difference is the enzyme called lactase has been added to the lactose free milk, making it easier to digest. You might find lactose free milk a little sweeter, but this doesn't mean it has any added sugar. What this means is lactose molecules have been partially broken down and our tongue perceives this as being more sweet. less
  • Hi Lindsay. Thank you for your comment and great question. I have seen this in stores recently and my first thought is it is still a processed beverage compared to milk. When I look at the nutrition fact lab... more
    Hi Lindsay. Thank you for your comment and great question. I have seen this in stores recently and my first thought is it is still a processed beverage compared to milk. When I look at the nutrition fact label, it lacks certain vitamins and minerals that milk has, like magnesium and Vitamin B-12. Also, while it claims to be low in carbohydrates, the sugar it does have is added, even though it may be organic cane sugar. Lastly, it uses a pea protein, which is not a high quality protein and it doesn’t absorbed as well compared to the high quality protein naturally found in milk. less
  • What about the brands of lactose-free or lactose reduced milk? I’d be curious to see how they compared.
  • Thanks for the article and comparison Sarah. Can I ask what your thoughts are on Ripple, the new milk made from pea protein?
  • Hi Pam. Thank you for your comment. Regardless of the brand you choose for your family, all Canadian milk is natural and less processed compared to any milk alternative. Be sure to choose whole milk though b... more
    Hi Pam. Thank you for your comment. Regardless of the brand you choose for your family, all Canadian milk is natural and less processed compared to any milk alternative. Be sure to choose whole milk though because of the additional calories babies need to grow. less
  • Thank you.
  • Thanks Ceci. Glad you liked it!
  • This was a great read. Thanks Sarah!
  • Hi sarah, I’m in the process of finding a good (natural, less processed) milk option for my 11 month old. Any thoughts? Thanks, Pam

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