We've all heard the slogan: "Milk does the body good!" The Problem Solvers find out if it does it better than non-dairy alternatives - like soy, almond, rice and hemp milk drinks. (Technically speaking, these alternatives are not really milks; milk is a secretion from the mammary glands of mammals.)
Niki Strealy, a registered dietitian and nutritionist with Providence Health and Services, says that you need to consider why you're drinking milk. For example, are you looking for more calcium?
"This Silk Pure Almond Milk has 45 percent of the daily value (for calcium) whereas regular cow's milk is 30 percent," says Strealy.
But make sure to read your labels. Another brand of almond milk that the Problem Solvers purchased had only 10 percent of the daily value for calcium.
What about protein? Cow's milk is the gold standard at 8 grams/serving. You'd need to drink eight servings of coconut or rice milk to get the same amount. In addition, according to Strealy, rice milk doesn't have much overall nutritional benefit.
For those with milk allergies, soy is most comparable to cow's milk in terms of protein, Vitamin D and calcium, but the calcium in soy milk is not as easily absorbed by the body. And some doctors advise certain cancer patients to limit their soy intake.
Hemp milk is a good choice. It contains calcium, Vitamin D but only a moderate amount of protein.
With any alternative milk, Strealy says avoid the sweetened varieties.
Strealy says cow's milk is still superior, even if it's the lactose-free kind.
"It's really going to give you the most bang for your buck," says Strealy.
What about organic cow's milk? It is higher in omega 3 fatty acids, which are good for you, but that's only if you're choosing the full fat milk. Skim milk doesn't have any of the fatty acids in it. Other benefits of organic milk include the absence of antibiotics and hormones.
Whole vs. lesser-fat cow's milk? Both have the same calcium, Vitamin D and protein; whole milk just has more fat. That's why whole milk is only recommended for kids 2 and under.
What about raw milk? Strealy doesn't recommend it because of the chance of contamination, especially E. coli. Strealy says that she's seen people here in the Portland area get sick.
Bottom line: milk really does do a body good.
"Studies still show that people who higher intakes of milk and dairy products actually have a healthier weight," emphasizes Strealy.
How do milk and non-diary alternatives compare on cost? Go to Problem Solver Shellie Bailey-Shah's Facebook page for the answers.
Here's a quick summary of the different kinds of milk alternatives:
- Made from water, whole soybeans and natural sweetener
- Has closest nutritional profile to cow's milk due to fortified calcium and Vitamin D; low in saturated fat
- Contains compounds called phytates which can bind calcium, making it less absorbable or bio-available
- Made from water and ground almonds
- Can provide more calcium than cow's milk, depending on the brand
- Contains less protein than cow's milk, 1-1.5 grams/serving compared to 8 grams/serving in cow's milk; low in calories
- Made from water and partially-milled rice
- Choose brands that have been fortified with calcium and Vitamin D, unsweetened
- Has very little protein, 1 gram/serving
- Made from ground coconut meat and juices
- Contains very little calcium and only 1 gram/serving of protein
- Contains the same amount of saturated fat as whole cow's milk
- Choose unsweetened brands
- Made from water and shelled hemp seed
- Contains calcium, Vitamin D and a moderate amount of protein
- Made from water, oat groats and other grains and beans
- Fortified with calcium and Vitamin D
- Contains half the amount of protein as cow's milk