Which milk is the best milk?
In a world where almonds, soy beans and coconuts are just as much associated with “dairy” products as cows, it’s hard to believe that the movement toward non-dairy alternatives only gained such popularity in the last three to five years.
With so many options regarding dairy milk and its alternatives, finding and understanding what products are right for you can feel impossible. Caitlin Beranek, a registered dietitian at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill., helps explore some of the most popular dairy and non-dairy options, as well as some you may not have heard of, to help find the best option for you and your family.
Dairy milk is still a staple in many American diets, and for good reason.
“Dairy milk contains a wide range of nutrients that are essential to the functioning of the body,” explains Beranek. “It is a good source of calcium, protein, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and vitamin B12, as well as added vitamin D.”
Considering all of these benefits, it is unsurprising dairy milk remains so popular. However, these nutrients can easily be found in various other foods.
“If someone is trying to avoid dairy products, they can change to a milk alternative with no harm to their health, as long as they are getting nutrients from other sources,” Beranek says. “A diet with a wide variety of healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein sources will provide you with the nutrients you need.”
As for these milk alternatives, it can be difficult to find the right choice for you and your family considering the growing number of available options.
“Some milk alternatives are loaded with extra sugar and additives, but some have the same amount of nutrients as regular milk,” Beranek notes. “One thing to be aware of is many of these milk alternatives do not contain nearly the amount of protein per serving that dairy milk does, so if someone is needing the protein in their diet they would need to choose a milk alternative with more protein.”
Popular alternatives, such as coconut and almond milks, are often lacking in this respect, although some brands have started offering protein enriched options. For a natural protein punch, stick to a classic like soy milk or try newer options, such as pea protein milk, each of which pack an equal amount of protein per serving to dairy. Compare nutrition labels to find the best balance of protein, sweeteners and other added nutrients for your lifestyle.
Be aware that just as many individuals cannot or choose not to consume dairy milk, the same is true for non-dairy alternatives. Take caution when introducing alternatives to young children or those with allergies.
“Only breastmilk or baby formula is recommended for infants up to twelve months, after which vitamin D or whole milk is recommended until age two,” advises Beranek.
Consult your child’s pediatrician if they exhibit a dairy sensitivity prior to 24 months, as well as before switching to any milk alternative after.
Overall, choosing the best type of milk option for you and your family boils down to many factors including taste, content and nutritional value. From staples like dairy, almond and soy milks to more exotic options like flax, oat and pea protein, shop around for your favorite, and don’t be afraid to try something new.
About the Author
Katie Helander, health enews contributor, is a public affairs and marketing intern for Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill. She is currently pursuing her BA in public relations and minors in international communication and Spanish at Illinois State University, where she also serves as the Chapter President of the Public Relations Student Society of America. In her free time, Katie enjoys theatre, traveling, working out, and learning new things. After graduation, she plans to pursue a career in international relations or with a major public relations agency.