Research suggests that more than 20% of people are now opting for milk alternatives.
No longer are the days when the biggest decision was deciding between full cream or low fat. Instead, we ponder the supermarket deciding between soy milk, A2 milk, rice milk, oat milk, coconut milk, almond milk - not to mention all the other types of nut milk. Nowadays, there’s a type of milk for every lifestyle with milk options taking up nearly a whole aisle in the supermarket.
Milk is an important source of nutrition because it contains calcium which is needed for healthy bones and it’s a source of protein which builds muscle and helps us to feel full.
But which ones stack up best for your health? And which ones should you be avoiding?
1. Cow’s milk
Whether it be full cream, low fat or skim milk, all varieties of cow’s milk tick the box when it comes to nutrition. Cow’s milk is 8 to 9 times the protein content of nut milks. It’s also a rich source of calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones, and iodine for healthy thyroid function and weight control. The only difference between full fat and skim is the energy content, as the fat has been stripped off the top, with skim being half the calories of full cream milk. Cow’s milk is also low cost making it an affordable option for all.
2. Lactose free milk
Cow’s milk contains lactose – a naturally occurring sugar. Those who are unable to digest lactose suffer from gastrointestinal side effects such as diarrhoea and bloating. Lactose free milk is a suitable option for those who are lactose intolerant as the lactase sugar has been removed allowing one to enjoy the product symptom free. Nutritionally, it is the same as regular cow’s milk.
3. A2 milk
Cow’s milk contains both the A1 and A2 milk proteins. Some cow’s also produce only the A2 milk protein, which is the product you see on the shelves called A2 milk. There is no nutritional difference between the products, but A2 milk will cost you double the price. If you can afford it and prefer it, then great, but there is no reason you need to be opting for it. The A1 milk protein is certainly not detrimental to your health and it’s likely that anyone that experiences less gastrointestinal side effects from drinking A2 milk will also experience the same benefits whendrinking lactose free milk.
4. Almond milk
Almond milk is made by grinding up almonds and adding water. It’s a rich source of calcium but very low in protein. It comes at a high cost due to its production cost and it will contain other ingredients such as stabilisers, emulsifiers and sometimes vegetable oils. Almond milk, or any type of nut milk is not what we should be including in our daily food plan and it’s certainly not an appropriate milk substitute for infant formulas, of which has become the current fad amongst parents. Some brands will also be sweetened with added sugar.
5. Oat milk
Oat milk is made from whole oats but will also contain other ingredients such as sunflower oil. It’s higher in carbohydrate than other milks and therefore will have a small fibre content, and with respect to its protein and calcium content, it stacks up pretty well; it has half the protein of cow’s milk, which is much higher than all the different types of nut milk, and the majority of brands will be calcium fortified.
6. Coconut milk
Coconut milk is high in saturated fat, contains no protein and is very low in calcium. Coconut products are certainly very popular but the evidence doesn’t stack when it comes to their inclusion in the diet. It also comes at a high cost.
7. Soy milk
Soy milk is a liquid extract of soybeans. It is a very popular cow’s milk substitute and unlike all the other dairy alternatives, it actually matches up for calcium and protein content. Just make sure to buy the ‘calcium fortified’ product and avoid ‘bonsoy’ which is very low in calcium. The one thing that is lacking when compared to cow’s milk is iodine - which is needed to manage your weight – and large amounts of soy combined with inadequate intake of iodine can also exacerbate iodine deficiency.
8. Rice milk
Made from whole brown rice and other ingredients such as sunflower oil, this is another popular milk hitting our cafes and the supermarket shelves. But it’s very low in protein – the same as nut milk – and very low in calcium. However, you will find calcium fortified rice milk on the supermarket shelves.
Take home messages
1. Cow’s milk - including lactose free - is the certain stand out and the most nutritional sound choice for your health.
2. For those who follow a vegan diet or have allergies to cow’s milk, soy milk is a great alternative. Make sure to choose one that is unsweetened and calcium fortified.
3. Leave the expensive nut milks on the shelves as you are better off enjoying them for what they are – a delicious and nutritious food source.
4. Don’t miss out on your iodine if you’re avoiding dairy products. This nutrient is essential for regulating your body weight and apart from cow’s milk, rich sources of iodine include seafood (particularly the skin of fish), bread and seaweed (sushi).