There’s lots more to the dairy aisle than just cow’s milk these days and it might be a bit baffling when you’re deciding when to choose which milk alternative.
Regular Cow’s milk: Nutritional gold standard. It is the cheapest source of high quality protein, calcium and vitamin D.
Lactose-free: next best option nutritionally if you are lactose intolerant. Only the lactose is removed, so you still get lots of the protein, calcium and vitamin D of regular milk. Flavor is definitely different from traditional milk and for that reason, some people go for other milk alternatives.
Soy milk: Next best option nutritionally. Highest amount of protein when it comes to milk alternatives. Make sure that your choice has a good amount of calcium and vitamin D. Often, it is flavored and contains added sweeteners. Unsweetened soy milk may not be as palatable.
Almond milk: This option has thicker texture and mild flavor that makes it quite popular. As will most substitutes, calcium and vitamin D are added to make them comparable to cow’s milk. It contains significantly less protein than soy or cow’s milk and contains thickeners.
Cashew milk: Another nut-based milk showing up in the dairy case to give almond milk some competition. Similar in nutrient profile to almond milk – low in protein but fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Unsweetened, it has very little natural sugars, so these unsweetened versions won’t spike blood sugar. Cashew milk does contain more vitamin E than other milks.
Coconut milk: Again, not a good source of protein and has added calcium and vitamin D. Coconut milk has a tropical note and a different type of thick texture. This could work for those with specific allergies that preclude the other options.
Rice milk: Very little natural nutrition, although it is fortified like the rest. However, it has a very water texture that takes some getting used to. This substitute may be the only one tolerated by those with severe, multiple allergies to soy, nuts, milk, etc.
When it comes down to it, the decision is generally a choice based on price and taste. Any one of these can provide a good source of calcium and Vitamin D, but for the whole nutritional package, nothing beats good old cow’s milk.