How to Choose Milk and Milk Alternatives

How to Choose Milk and Milk Alternatives

Whether you are purchasing cow’s milk or trying to choose a plant based alternative to have after bariatric surgery, it can feel like a complicated process. How do you know what one is the best? There are a few things to consider before making a decision, and we will review them in this blog post. 

Nutrition Facts Panel

When looking at any milk or milk alternative product, it’s important to always consider the total carbohydrates, sugars, and protein content. When using these milk alternatives or milks as a base for your protein powder, I recommend choosing something that is low across the board. That way, you're not straying too far from the nutrition label on your protein powder.

For example, unsweetened almond milk or unsweetened vanilla almond milk has about 1 gram of total carbohydrates, 0g of sugar and 1 gram of protein.

As a general rule of thumb, make sure the following are present on the label

Also, the majority of plant based options are now fortified with calcium, which I love! 

Cost

With inflation and general budgeting, cost is always important to consider. One immediate way to reduce cost does depend on where you shop. 

Safeway, Savemart, Raleys, and Costco are all amazing stores. However, they are not necessarily the least expensive depending on what you are purchasing.

Since we’re talking about milk and plant based options, these stores can be about $1.00 to $3.00 more expensive than their competitors unless they’re having a sale.

This is why I personally love shopping at Winco, Walmart, Food 4 Less and Grocery Outlet. Generally, Unsweetened Almond milk is the least expensive, followed by Fairlife milk and then unsweetened coconut milk. 

Ingredients vs. Nutrition

Deciding what options are healthier can feel challenging. When looking at ingredients lists, a general rule of thumb is that the shorter the ingredients list, the better. However, these options can be 2-3 times more expensive.

Plant based milks can be lower in calories and fat, which is a desirable quality for people seeking weight loss. They make a great liquid to mix with a protein powder as well. I personally like using unsweetened almond milk with protein powder. 

However, when looking for an option to increase your protein without all the additives and powders, Fairlife milk (cow’s milk), is an excellent choice. It has minimal additives in the ingredients list and is naturally much higher in protein.

Almond, Coconut, or Soy?

When trying to choose an option, taste and cost are important factors to consider. Additionally, health benefits. Soy milk is actually very comparable to cow’s milk as it contains similar amounts of protein, and is fortified with calcium and Vitamin D. 

The higher protein content of soy milk is what makes it stand apart from other plant based alternatives. However, animal studies have shown that soy milk can cause inflammation and impact estrogen and hormone levels and there have been some instances of this in humans.

Incorporating soy products is safe, however if having on a daily basis, we would suggest almond or coconut milk options.

Author
Katie Ott, MS, RD

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