Are all milks created equal?

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Going to the grocery store, shoppers can find all types of milk options – almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk and regular milk. The list goes on. At some point, it is hard to know which option is the best.

“There are a variety of reasons people switch to dairy-free alternatives,” said Pam L’Heureux, a registered dietitian and Clinical Nutrition Senior Manager at Banner Baywood Medical Center. “Many people choose milk alternatives because they are lactose intolerant or because of other dietary restrictions.”

Milk Alternatives

She discussed whether plant-based milks are a good source of calcium and if there are other pros and cons to be aware of.

L’Heureux said the recommended amount of calcium depends on age, gender and other factors such as pregnancy or breastfeeding, but for most adults, it is between 1,000 and 1,200 mg per day. Milk, yogurt and cheese are obvious sources of calcium. Some vegetables contain calcium, including broccoli, kale and tofu. However, the body doesn't absorb these as the dairy products. Other foods, such as juice or cereals, are often fortified with calcium. So are most of the plant-based milks, which makes them a great non-dairy source of the mineral, she said.

Alternative milks have lower amounts of saturated fat, L’Heureux said. The drawback is they usually don’t offer as much protein as dairy. But, because most Americans tend to get enough protein, it’s not much of a concern. She does, however, caution against regularly drinking the chocolate or vanilla options.

“The flavored milks are very high in sugar,” she said. “I always choose the unsweetened version.”

L’Heureux said the nutritional value of the alternative milks are pretty similar. However, certain kinds can be better than others for those with health conditions. She said it’s always important to discuss your diet with your health care provider and to consult with a provider before beginning any supplements.

Also see: Do you scream at ice cream? (Infographic)

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