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Ditching Dairy? The Lowdown on Non-Dairy Milk

Nut milks and other milk alternatives are on the rise but it is essential to know the difference between milk alternatives and the nutrients packed within each of them.

What is the difference between regular cow’s milk and milk alternatives?

  • Cows milk is considered a complete food due to its rich content of protein, fat and carbohydrates – no matter if it is whole, 2%, 1% or skim. Cows milk also provides the drinker various vitamins and minerals essential for maintaining good health. Most people think of milk and it’s relationship with building strong bones. This is due to the combination of bone building nutrients that are packed into cows milk (calcium, vitamin D, protein, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin B12, zinc).
  • Milk alternatives are dairy-free and vegan alternatives to regular cows milk. The key word here is “alternative”.  Milk alternatives do not pack the same nutrients as does cows milk because their makeup is entirely different. Most nut milks have similar nutrient/calorie breakdown and although they typically pack quite a bit of calcium, protein is typically where they are lacking. Most milk alternatives have significantly less protein with about 2 or less grams per cup (cashew, almond, hemp, rice). Soy milk and Pea milk would be considered closest nutritionally to cows milk but the composition and nutrient breakdown still differs quite a bit.

Soy Milk

  • nutrition profile similar to dairy milks, high in protein and lower in fat than most other non-dairy milks
  • 8 fl oz. = 80 calories, 4 g fat, 75 mg sodium, 4 g carbs, 7 g protein
  • 50% more calcium than dairy milk, 100% cholesterol-free, low in saturated fat

    Cons: soybeans contain high levels of phytic acid which inhibits the body’s absorption of essential mineral like calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc and may cause digestive problems. These effects only occur during the meal in which soy milk is consumed and the phytates will not disrupt absorption indefinitely. If soy milk is consumed daily, the effects could be more pronounced. Soy milk should be consumed in moderation.

Almond Milk

  • almonds contain vitamin E, B vitamins, manganese, magnesium, calcium, iron, copper, phosphorus, zinc and healthy fats
  • naturally low in calories
  • 1 cup = 60 calories, 2.5 g fat, 8 g carbs
  • 50% more calcium than dairy milk, excellent source of vitamin E, no cholesterol or saturated fat

    Cons: lacking in protein

Cashew Milk

  • good source of healthy fats, manganese, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, iron, and zinc
  • works great to add richness to non-dairy ice creams or to thicken smoothies, also tastes great all by itself
  • 1 cup = 25 calories, 2 g fat, 1 g carbs, 0g saturated fat and cholesterol
  • 50% more calcium than dairy milk

    Cons: low in protein

Hemp Milk

  • higher in omega-3 fatty acids which are anti-inflammatory, heart healthy fats; hemp
  • naturally carries 10 essential amino acids, making it a good source of protein
  • 8 fl oz. = 80 calories, 8 g fat, 1 g carbs, 2 g protein

    Cons: does not pack much calcium so it will not help keep bones strong like regular cows milk; also often a bit pricier than other non-dairy milks

Rice Milk

  • easy on digestion, great for individuals with nut, soy and/or seed allergies, slightly higher in carbohydrates than most other non-dairy milks
  • good to use in cooking because it holds up well under heat
  • 8 fl oz. = 120 calories, 2.5 g fat, 23 g carbs, 1 g protein

    comes in last in regards to nutritional value when it comes to non-dairy milks… higher in sugar and lower in sugar

Pea Milk

  • 1 cup delivers the same amount of protein as cow’s milk
  • Low in saturated fat
  • 50% more calcium that popular almond or cashew milk
  • Tastes creamy and silky like regular cows milk
  • 8 fl oz. = 70 cal, 8g protein, 4.5 g fat, 0g carb, 0g sugar

    Cons: not much – some argue the use of sunflower oil adds unnecessary fat but Ripple adds Omega-3’s so that the milk packs both Omega-6 and -3 fatty acids

How to make your own nut milk

  1. Soak nuts: place in a glass bowl/jar and fill with filtered or purified water, making sure nuts are covered completely.
  2. Cover jar or bowl and leave in cool spot or the refrigerator for specified soak time depending on what nut you choose (almond = 8-12 hrs. cashew = 2 hours).  Soaking nuts makes them easier to digest and improves their flavor
  3. Drain, discard soaking water and rinse with fresh
  4. Blend soaked nuts with filtered water, adding in any flavorings you would like
  5. Pour milk into nut milk bag and squeeze to separate the pulp from the milk
  6. Store covered in refrigerator
Britney Kennedy
Britney Kennedy
Britney is the founder of OnPoint Nutrition

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