Milk alternatives: know what you are buying

Don’t assume a milk alternative has the same essential nutrients as dairy milk, find out for yourself.

New milk alternatives continue to arrive at local retail stores. When the word “milk” is used in the name of a beverage it may seem logical to assume the nutrient value would be the same as dairy milk. Michigan State University Extension encourages consumers to educate themselves about milk substitutes and milk alternatives to be a well-informed consumer.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) published legal definitions of foods called “standards of identity.” Cow’s milk and other dairy products have standards of identity. Milk alternatives do not currently have a defined standard of identify. They also do not meet the standards of identify for milk. This fact makes the use of the term “milk” a bit confusing.

Milk substitutes, including almond milk, soy milk, rice milk and coconut milk are milky white beverages made from plants. They come in various flavors and options such as plain, vanilla and chocolate, as well as organic, fortified or unfortified. They have gained popularity for vegan or vegetarian lifestyles. However be aware that milk alternatives vary widely in their nutrition value in comparison to milk. Consumers should carefully read the Nutrition Facts label and the ingredients list to understand the content of milk alternatives to discern if they are a good option for their family.

Milk is a nutrient dense food; meaning based on the calories in one serving, it is rich in nutrients – one cup of milk provides key nutrients like protein, calcium, potassium, vitamin B12 and riboflavin. Compare the Nutrition Facts and ingredients between milk and several milk alternatives. A close comparison reveals important differences. For example; milk contains about eight grams of protein, soy milk made from soybeans contains about six grams of protein, and coconut/rice/almond milk contain about one gram of protein.

When you further compare the Nutrition Facts labels you can find other noticeable differences. Milk provides 50 percent of your daily vitamin B12 and riboflavin requirements, while soymilk does not have a significant amount of B vitamins. Milk contains only natural sugars – no added sugars are in milk. Added sugar will likely be in a milk alternative.

Calcium is an essential mineral that the human body needs to function properly. Adults ages 19 to 50 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day. Milk naturally provides 300 milligrams of calcium, or about 30 percent of your daily requirement in one, eight ounce serving. The amount of calcium in milk remains the same, regardless of the variety of milk you select such as low-fat or fat-free milk. Compare calcium in one, eight ounce serving of a milk alternative. Soy milk does not provide any significant amount of calcium. Food manufacturers fortify or add a form of calcium to their product to increase the levels of calcium per serving. Again, it is important to compare and discern what beverage best supplies your individual nutrient needs and fits your food budget.

Thoroughly reading the Nutrition Facts label continues to be the best method to understand more about the foods you eat and the beverages you drink. Comparing products both for natural and added ingredients can help you identify preferred foods that best fit into your daily food plan. Be watchful and intentional to learn more about the foods you buy, and accurately assess new foods items that hit the grocery store shelves.

Related Articles