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Cow’s milk is still the gold standard

From a nutritional stand point, cow’s milk is a hard to match! It’s a rich source of bioavailable nutrients, protein, calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, potassium, riboflavin, folate and vitamin B12. Bioavailability refers to the actual amount of a nutrients absorbed once it enters the body.

Individuals who have difficulty digesting milk sugar (lactose), vegans, who void animal food sources, and those that have milk protein allergies, prefer non-dairy alternatives such as rice, soy, coconut and almond milk. Non-dairy alternatives are fortified with vitamins and minerals in attempt to equate the nutritional profile of cow’s milk

An 8-ounce serving of milk provides 80-100 calories,12 grams of carbohydrates, and 8 grams of protein. This protein content is 60 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance for toddlers, and 40 percent of the RDA for young children. Cow’s milk contains every essential amino acid required by our bodies. The two primary reasons non-dairy alternatives are unable to mirror cow’s milk is their lack of bioavailable protein and calcium, respectively.

Many performance dietitians, including myself, at the high school, collegiate and professional athletic level, encourage cow’s milk after workouts, because it offers carbohydrates for glycogen replenishment and protein for muscle protein synthesis. Not only are its nutrients easily absorbed in the body, its more affordable than any meal replacement recovery shakes or bars.

If you are going to replace cow’s milk, the best nutrition alternate choice is soy milk. 8 ounces of soy milk contains 7 to 12 grams of protein, and 80-100 calories per servicing for unsweetened varieties. Though soy milk may be a good non-dairy alternative to cow’s milk, it’s important to ensure that it is fortified with calcium, vitamins D, and B12, especially if following a vegan diet.

Another non-dairy alternative is almond milk. Almond milk offers heart-healthy fats, vitamins E and A. Its unsweetened varieties contain 30 to 50 calories per 8 ounces making it less caloric compared to cow and soy milk, yet calories are not about nutrition sustenance. Be sure to shake the container before each pour, because added calcium settles on the bottom.

If you are allergic to cow’s milk, soy and nuts, rice milk offers adequate carbohydrates and is low in both protein and fat. 8 ounces provides 140 calories; a higher calorie count with fewer nutrients. Choose the unsweetened version, as sugar is often added to improve the taste of milk, of course without any added nutritional benefits.

Unsweetened coconut milk contains less calories than cow’s milk; 45 to 60 calories per 8 ounces. Be mindful, saturated fat in coconut milk contribute to cholesterol levels. Coconut milk lacks in protein and carbohydrates but can add great flavor to cooked dishes.

Lastly, if you are vegan, hemp milk provides omega-3 fats, but very little protein. Be sure to purchase the fortified options, because hemp milk is naturally obsolete of calcium, vitamins D, and B12.

In conclusion fortified, plant-based milk alternatives are not nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk, because the body can not readily absorb all the added nutrients intended to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies. If you are avoiding milk for any other reason than because you are vegan, lactose intolerant, or have milk allergies, I encourage you to recognize these scientific facts about cow’s milk and dismiss the hype of non-scientific diet trends.


Published in The Gadsden Times, July 1, 2018 HERE

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