There are some specific nutrients we are looking to gain when consuming dairy and not all milk is created equal. So let’s crack the shell on nut milk and see how some popular milk alternatives stack up to cow’s milk when it comes to the nutrition facts label.
Nutrition Facts: Non-fat Skim Milk 83 Calories, 0g Fat, 8g Protein, 12g Carbohydrate, 30% DV Calcium
Cow’s milk is a nutritional powerhouse. It is one of the most nutritionally dense beverages we can consume; containing a unique package of nutrients. At just 83 calories per cup, non-fat skim milk provides nine essential nutrients (1). Milk is also a great source of complete protein, which is found in animal products. Complete proteins contain all nine essential amino acids (the ones that our bodies do not make). In terms of protein quality and content per serving, you can’t beat cow’s milk. Animal products such as cow’s milk also contain cholesterol, which should be limited to less than 300 mg per day (2). One 8 ounce glass of skim milk contributes less than 5mg of cholesterol, making it part of a heart healthy diet. Three servings per day of dairy is associated with better weight management, bone health and reduced risk of certain chronic diseases (1).
Cow’s milk provides a wide variety of benefits but dietary restrictions including allergies, intolerances and vegan lifestyles create the need for milk alternatives.
*FYI- The nine essential nutrients found in cow’s milk are also found in milk alternatives. However, calcium, and some other nutrients must be fortified to be equivalent to cow’s milk. Soy, Coconut and Almond Milks do not naturally contain much calcium at all. Most are fortified but not all brands are. It is important to read labels and understand that the calcium in fortified milks is not as readily absorbed as the calcium in cow’s milk.
Nutrition Facts Soy Milk 100 Calories, 4g Fat, 7g Protein, 8g Carbohydrate, 30% DV Calcium
This beverage can be a great alternative if you are in need of a substitute for cow’s milk. Soy milk is considered a good source of calcium and other nutrients at 100 calories per glass (3). This milk also contains 7 grams of complete protein per cup. Soy is one of the few non-animal sources of complete protein. Research also shows that consuming 25 grams of soy protein per day, along with a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease (3). Since soy milk is a plant based product it is cholesterol free and also low in saturated fat.
Nutrition Facts: Coconut Milk 80 Calories, 5g Fat, 1g Protein, 7g Carbohydrate, 10% DV Calcium
At 80 calories per 8 ounce glass, coconut milk is similar to cow’s milk when it comes to calorie content and contains no cholesterol. However, this beverage isn’t a great source of protein at only one gram per cup. Unlike most plant products, coconut milk contains a significant amount of saturated fat.
Saturated fat intake should be limited to less than 7 percent of total daily calories or about 16 grams of saturated fats per day based on a 2,000 calorie diet (4). Three glasses of coconut milk would add 15 grams of saturated fat to your daily intake. Using small amounts of coconut milk in cooking to add a tropical flavor may be more appropriate than swapping it out for the three recommended servings of low fat dairy per day.
Nutrition Facts: Non-fat Skim Milk 60 Calories, 2.5g Fat, 1g Protein, 8g Carbohydrate, 45% DV Calcium
Almond milk is low in calories at only 60 per cup. This milk provides zero grams of cholesterol and zero grams of saturated fat. Almonds are rich in many nutrients; however almond milk provides far less protein than cow’s milk. One 8 ounce glass provides only 1 gram of protein. This milk is a good source of vitamins and minerals, but doesn’t stack up to cow’s milk in the protein department.
Conclusion: Some milk alternatives can provide a good source of nutrition for those avoiding cow’s milk. Just keep in mind that label reading is key when choosing an appropriate substitute to meet your needs.
Written by: Molly Kayser, BGSU Graduate Student intern with Wood County Extension.
Reviewers: Susan Zies, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Wood County.
Cheryl Barber Spires R.D., L.D. ,Program Specialist, SNAP- Ed, Ohio State University Extension, West Region