Milk. It does a body good, but which type? Soy, Almond, Rice, Hemp or Dairy?

It used to be that picking up a carton of milk was very simple.  There was only one "kind": dairy milk.  Now, the cow must make room for the almond, bean, grain, seed, and even the goat.  

Whether it is lactose intolerance, milk allergies, veganism, taste or health reasons, people are switching to non-dairy forms of milk.  The most common reason I have heard for giving up the cow are the potential health benefits.

Each milk type has its pros and cons.  In order to help you decide which milk is right for you we compared labels and conducted research.  Let the analysis begin!

** Editor's Note:  Nicole Andelfinger, a former Athletic-Minded intern, contributed to this post.  The Point Loma Nazarene University graduate aspires to a job in the media industry.

Dairy vs. Soy vs. Rice vs Almond vs Hemp.  Which is better? What do you gain and/or lose by selecting one over the other?

 

Calories

Fat (g)

Saturated Fat (g)

Protein (g)

Carbs (g)

Sugar (g)

Iron (DV)

Vitamin D (DV)

Sodium (mg)

Dairy (nonfat)

90

0

0

9

12

11

0%

45%

140

Dairy (1%)

110

2.5

1.5

9

12

11

0%

45%

140

Dairy (2%)

130

5

3

8

12

12

0%

25%

125

Soy (light/original)

70

2

0

6

8

6

6%

30%

120

Soy organic/unsweetened

80

4

0.5

7

4

1

6%

30%

85

Soy (original/plain)

100

4

0.5

7

8

6

6%

30%

120

Rice (enriched/original)

120

2.5

0

1

23

10

4%

25%

100

Almond (unsweetened)

40

3.5

0

1

2

0

4%

25%

180

Almond (sweetened)

Hemp (original)

60

100

2.5

6

0

.5

1

2

8

10g

7

6

2%

6%

25%

20%

150

25

NOTES

  1. Brands compared are Lucerne (Dairy), Silk (Soy), Rice Dream (Rice), Almond Breeze (Almond), Living Harvest (Hemp)
  2. Serving size is one cup or 8 oz.
  3. All brands yield at least 30% of the Recommended Daily Value of calcium based upon a 2,000 calorie diet.
  4. All brands are also somewhat comparable in terms of price and availability.(*Living Harvest is sold at Whole Foods and comes in unsweetened vanilla, vanilla, and chocolate.)

Primary Benefits of Each:

  •    Dairy milk is a natural source of calcium and protein.  It is also the leader in potassium (12% of DV).  The non-dairy alternatives are fortified with calcium and Vitamin D (needed for absorption).  If you eschew dairy milk, choose a brand that is fortified -- like the ones listed above which all yield 30% of the recommended daily amount of calcium.  Both dairy milk and soy yield 50% of the DV for vitamin B12.
  • Soy is the non-dairy winner in terms of protein, and research suggests that soy based protein can reduce the risk of heart disease by preventing plaque build up in the arteries.
  • Almonds are considered a "super food" for their antioxidant properties and polyunsaturated (heart healthy) fats.  While the almond milk doesn't have the riboflavin nor B12, one serving does have 50% of the DV for Vitamin E.  (Almond butter is another way to get these benefits.  Choose it over peanut butter.
  • rice dreamRice milk is light on sodium, has no saturated fat and yields 15% of the DV for phosphorous (bone strengthening benefit).  Also, many people who have nut allergies may also be sensitive to soy. Rice milk provides a nice alternative.  And because it has less protein and fat than dairy milk, it is easier to digest.
  • hemp milkHemp gets huge praise for being a source of Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), meaning Omega-3 and Omega-6.  Hemp also contains all 10 essential amino acids -- the building blocks of protein.  It is also yieldss 40% of the RDA for calcium, higher than milk!

Potential "Cons" of Each:

  • Dairy:  The villains are hormones, saturated fat, and digestion/lactose intolerance.  Consumers worry about the effects of growth hormones used on milk cows, particularly rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone) and rBST (recombinant Bovine somatotropin).  Dairy detractors contend (though have not proven) that both drugs cause cancer in humans either by contaminating milk or by releasing harmful growth factors.  And the packaging can be confusing.  Some milk will clearly state that its milk comes from non-rBST treated cows, while other brands, even organic ones, will not.
  • Soy:  While soy protein is applauded for being heart healthy, the potential downside is that  the isoflavenes in soy may over-stimulate the thyroid, as well as increase the risk of breast cancer. However, these risks are very controversial.  This is a good summary of the issue.  If you are already a big consumer of soy protein, it may be best to skip the extra soy protein in your milk. For more information about potential thyroid risks, click here.
  • In terms of rice and almond, both are particularly susceptible to having artificial thickeners and sweeteners added, upping the sugar and carb content of both.  Because rice and almond milk naturally lack in calcium, protein, and vitamin D, both are often fortified to bring their nutrient levels up.
  • Hemp is also fortified and depending on the flavor can have added sugar in the form of brown rice syrup.  But the con we think is most important is the taste and texture.  Some consumers complain that there is an "earthy" aftertaste especially with the original and unsweetened flavors. The vanilla gets better reviews.

Other Nutrients and Considerations:

  • Vitamin B12:  If you’re looking for a "natural" source of Vitamin B12 (and calcium), dairy milk is your best bet.  There is controversy about the reliability and effective absorption of plant based B12.  Studies suggest that animal sources are superior.  Rice, Soy and Hemp have it added in and Almond (Almond Breeze brand) has none.  
  • Vitamins A and D: They all have it.
  • Calcium:  It comes naturally in dairy and others are enriched.  Beware that there are plenty of brands that do not add it in.  From a dietary standpoint, it's important to ensure an adequate intake of calcium.  If you eschew dairy, check the label of your non-dairy beverage. 
  • Protein: Dairy is the winner when it comes to protein.  Soy is close behind. 
  • Sugar:  Almond milk, soy milk and hemp milk come in "unsweetened" flavors.  Both dairy milk and rice milk will yield at least 9 grams of sugar per serving.  Dairy supporters will argue that the sugar is natural.  However, while some rice milk does have "rice syrup" listed as an ingredient, Rice Dream does not. 

What is the "BEST" Choice?

Our best advice is to pick one or two milk options and "live" with each for a week or two.  If you are switching from dairy, it may take time to get used to a new flavor and texture.  For our team, we favor non-fat dairy and almond.  There is too much controversy about soy protein (isoflavanes) and many of us already ingest soy protein via energy and protein bars.  Rice milk is too high in sugar and tastes sweet. It also tends to be very "thin."

We like non-fat dairy becauase it is low in saturated fat, tastes good and "looks" good in our coffee and on cereal.  Almond is even more creamy and can be lower in fat, sugar and calories than dairy.  We like the taste for hot chocolate, over cereal, on fruit and sometimes in coffee and tea.  But then there is hemp.  It's got so much good nutrition going for it.  Flax and sunflowerseed milks too! 

An advantage of both almond and hemp is that they come in a variety of flavors: unsweetened, sweetened, vanilla, original.  If you like your milk a little thicker, the Almond Breeze unsweetened vanilla is a good option. Trader Joe's now has its own brand of Almond Milk and we're fans. BUT our favorite after testing and testing and more testing is NOW (as of 2012) Whole Foods' 365 Brand Original. It's  very smooth; AND we like it just as it is.  For other brands we felt we needed to mix the unsweetened (2/3) with the vanilla to get the optimal taste. No longer. Go for it. 

** Athletic-Minded Traveler has all sorts of helpful information in its blog archives.  See the categories at the right.  Also click our icon/logo to visit our travel portal!

Thumbnail Image: 

my youngest son is mildly

my youngest son is mildly lactose intolerant, but needed something to pour on his cereal and dunk the occasional cookie in. We read to many controversial things about soy, and he really disliked the almond and coconut varieties. We have settled in on the refrigerated Rice Dream original. Its a little high in sugar and carbs, but at his age I think those things can be adjusted for, ie. eating healthier cereals and cutting back on other sweet items he used to otherwise eat. Our family has completely switched to rice milk now, buying about about 2 gallons a week. The only exception being for buying the occasional half gallon of regular milk for mashed potatoes or home-made mac n cheese.

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