Nikki Putnam, registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition solutions specialist at Alltech, compares cow’s milk to other milk alternatives and explains why cow’s milk still reigns supreme nutritionally.
Once, milk was a beverage made only by dairy cows. But a walk into the "milk" section of today’s supermarket would suggest otherwise.
With a growing selection of milk alternatives made from soy, almond, rice, hemp, coconut and cashew, consumers have become increasingly confused by the health attributes touted by both milk and milk alternatives.
While these plant-based products make up less than 10 percent of milk sales, they are gaining ground. Even popular coffee chains have hopped on the milk alternative train — will your mocha be made with 2%, 1%, nonfat…or soy, almond or coconut milk?
Plant-based milks have been perceived, or sometimes advertised, as healthier alternatives to dairy, but that’s not always the case. Milk alternatives were created to accommodate consumers who have an allergy, are lactose intolerant or have vegan dietary restrictions, not because they are nutritionally equivalent or better.
Check the (nutrition) facts on the milk carton
Milk alternatives, with the exception of soy milk, have considerably less protein than dairy milk. Although many of the plant products fortify their beverages with additional nutrients, they also have a long list of added ingredients, including sugar, salt and thickening agents.
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee identified low- and fat-free dairy as part of a healthy diet. With the exception of fortified soy milk, the same cannot be said for milk alternatives, which lack the quantity and quality of nutrients milk has, including vitamin D, calcium and potassium.
Milk, yogurt and cheese are naturally nutrient-rich foods that provide many essential nutrients that contribute to good health at all stages of life. Milk is a natural source of calcium and vitamin B12, riboflavin, phosphorus and potassium. It also contains smaller amounts of other nutrients including vitamin A, other B-vitamins, vitamin D, magnesium, iodine, selenium and zinc.
Dairy foods are also excellent sources of high quality protein that contain essential amino acids, which the human body cannot synthesize itself. 1
What type of milk is best for toddlers?
Cow’s milk is not recommended during the first 12 months of life. However, fortified cow’s milk is an important dietary component of a toddler’s diet because of its high-quality protein, calcium, and vitamins A and D. Calcium is involved in bone growth, tooth development, and muscle contraction, and it may play a role in the regulation of blood pressure and body fat.2
One study showed that children who consumed milk with the noontime meal were the only group to meet or exceed 100 percent of the daily Dietary Reference Intake for calcium (i.e., 500 to 800 mg).3 Two or three servings of milk or dairy products per day are recommended to meet these requirements.
What's in your glass?
This chart from National Dairy Council® is a great at-a-glance look at how milk compares to the alternatives.
Credit: National Dairy Council. Original post: https://www.nationaldairycouncil.org/content/2015/whats-in-your-glass.
More milk truth?
For more information, visit National Dairy Council's website.
Check out #getreal and #milktruth on social media for more highlights on the differences between dairy and plant milks.
- European Dairy Association Position Paper: MILK & DAIRY PRODUCTS ARE PART OF A HEALTHY, BALANCED DIET INCLUDING THOSE CONTAINING ADDED SUGAR 2015
- Allen R, Myers A. Nutrition in Toddlers. Am Fam Physician. 2006 Nov 1;74(9):1527-1532.
- Johnson RK, Panely C, Wang MQ. The association between noon beverage consumption and the diet quality of school-age children. J Child Nutr Mgmt. 1998;22:95–100.