Let’s admit that the milk section in the grocery store is overwhelming. Years ago the word milk meant that it came from a cow. Not true anymore. The milk section now has many non-dairy milk alternatives. Yes it’s true that milk does not come from a plant, but we are now used to calling these a type of milk.
I often hear people with diabetes tell me that they changed to a non-dairy milk to lower their carb intake. So, what type of milk should you be drinking? That answer depends on your preference and nutrition needs.
There are several reasons why people avoid cow’s milk. It’s estimated that about 65% of the world’s population has problems digesting lactose which is the natural sugar found in milk. Other people avoid milk because they are vegetarian, have environmental concerns, following a dairy-free diet, or just don’t like the taste of milk.
If you are interested in trying a non-dairy milk there are lots of choices. I went to my local grocery store and counted 15 different types. You’ve probably heard of almond, soy, and coconut milks. There are plenty more including rice, hemp, oat, pea, flax, quinoa, cashew, hazelnut, macadamia nut, peanut, spelt, and sunflower milks. And to make your choice more complicated there are blends of different plants in milks like almond coconut milk.
Pros and Cons
The difference with non-dairy milks is that the nutrition content varies according to the manufacturer. Not all almond milk is the same. It is true that some non-dairy milks are lower in calories, fat, carbs, and sugar and they don’t contain cholesterol. Only some are fortified with calcium and vitamin D similar to or in larger amounts than cow’s milk. Some naturally contain protein and others have added whey or other plant-based protein to increase protein content. Unfortunately, non-dairy milks often contain additives including gums as thickeners and some people choose to avoid these.
How to Choose
Start by looking for a milk that is unsweetened, read the Nutrition Fact label, and compare products. It’s good to even compare the label of non-dairy milk to cow’s milk. Keep in mind that soy, rice, quinoa, and oat milks often contain more carbs than cow’s milk. Soy and pea are the only milks that naturally contain protein. Look for products fortified with calcium and vitamin D unless your diet contains adequate amounts of those nutrients or you are taking a supplement.
There isn’t one milk that’s perfect for everyone. Your choice of milk should depend on your individual needs and taste preference. Compare products and find the milk that’s best for you.
by Christine McKinney, RD LDN CDE