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Milk from nuts, beans or udders -- which does your body best?

If you opt for soy milk or almond milk instead of cow's milk, are you getting comparable nutrition value to what moo juice delivers?

This week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column looks at the ongoing controversy surrounding cows' milk: Is the white stuff an essential, nutrition-packed building block of the human diet, as has long been believed, or are there better ways to get the calcium and other nutrients that milk delivers?

For reasons ranging from lactose intolerance and adherence to a vegetarian diet to simple taste preference, people are increasingly turning to such products as soy and almond milks. But not all milks are created equal. Here's a quick look at the nutritional profiles of the three.

  • Blue Diamond brand's unsweetened almond milk logs in at 40 calories per 8-ounce cup, 30 of them from fat. But none of that fat is of the unhealthful saturated or trans variety; nor is there any cholesterol. Same goes for the sweetened kind, which has 60 calories per cup, 25 of them from fat. Though both have added sea salt, the sweetened milk has 6 percent of the Daily Value for sodium; unsweetened has 8 percent of the DV. Each delivers 5 percent of the DV for potassium, a gram of protein, 10 percent of the DV for both Vitamin A and phosphorus, 20 percent of the DV for calcium, 25 percent of the DV for Vitamin D and 50 percent of the Vitamin E you need in a day. The sweet version's second ingredient (after purified water and just before almonds) is evaporated cane juice. Other notable ingredients include soy lecithin and carrageenan, a seaweed extract that helps processed foods stay fresh and shelf-stable. The vitamins A, D and E are there largely by virtue of fortification, though almonds do contain their own Vitamin E.
  • Most experts recommend against drinking whole cow's milk because it's so full of saturated fat; I looked at skim milk (because that's what I drink); in the absence of a major national brand, I examined the label for the local brand I buy. For the most part, the nutrients remain about the same regardless of fat content -- except the fat and calorie counts, that is. A cup of skim milk has 80 calories, none of them from fat, though there is a trace amount of cholesterol. Milk contains 5 percent of the sodium DV, no fiber, 8 grams of protein plus 30 percent of the calcium DV; it's also got 11 percent of the DV for potassium, 26 percent of your daily riboflavin needs and 25 percent of the phosphorus DV, along with 10 percent of the DV for niacin. Because it's fortified, it supplies 25 percent of the DV for Vitamin D and 10 percent of the DV for Vitamin C and Vitamin A. Depending on the brand you buy, chocolate milk may have as many as twice the calories and grams of sugar of plain skim, a bit more fat (including some saturated fat and cholesterol). Some are super-fortified with calcium, with a single serving delivering about two-thirds of the daily value for that mineral.

  • Silk brand plain and vanilla soy milks each have 100 calories per cup, about a third of that from fat, including half a gram of saturated fat; the remaining fats are better-for-you polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Neither contains any cholesterol. The vanilla-flavored kind has 4 percent of the DV for sodium; the plain 5 percent. Each has 300 mg of potassium and a gram of fiber; the vanilla has 6 grams of protein, the plain 7 grams. Their vitamin and mineral profiles are identical to one another: 10 percent of the Vitamin A DV, 30 percent of the calcium DV, 6 percent of the iron DV, 30 percent of the DV for Vitamin D and riboflavin, 6 percent of the folate DV, 50 percent of the DV for Vitamin B12, 10 percent of the DV for magnesium, 4 percent of the DV for zinc and 8 percent of the DV for selenium. Both are sweetened with evaporated cane juice, and both contain sea salt and carrageenan. The calcium, Vitamin A, Vitamin D, riboflavin and B2 come via fortification, as does the Vitamin B12, which is naturally found only in animal-, not plant-based products.

Of course there are all kinds of variations on these basic milks. But having the numbers in hand for these basic types should help you figure out which kind best meets your dietary needs.

As for which goes best with cookies, you're on your own.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  November 3, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness  
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How about goat milk? There are numerous health benefits connected to goat milk.
Maybe you could add that to your article.

Posted by: tarzan1 | November 3, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

If you were interested in comparing apples to apples, you should have compared Silk's unsweetened soy milk to the unsweetened almond milk. Otherwise, knowledgeable individuals such as my self might conclude that the opinions stated in this article are biased and intended to sway consumers from considering soy milk as an alternative to cow's milk.

Posted by: maggismith | November 3, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

This is a classic case where a table would really do a much better job. I couldn't compare the lines of text: I needed columns to compare directly. Please think about how readers process numbers and design your article accordingly. I'm really interested in this topic, but the final product is not helpful to me.

Posted by: fionab | November 3, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

I agree wholeheartedly with fionab. This article was a chore to read. I can get the same information by reading the labels. What I want is some real research by the author.

Posted by: Canadianmaria | November 3, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

there also was no information comparison about price and value for price . . . cow milk is half as much last time I checked. Or is this stuff for the well-heeled only?

Posted by: rkersh | November 3, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the comment about this piece requiring a table.

Also - there was no mention of the potential harmful affects of any of these milks, other than fat content. More and more research is showing that components of soy milk act on the body similarly to the hormone estrogen. If you have a child who drinks 3 cups of milk a day, that could be a HUGE hormonal impact.

Posted by: JHBVA | November 3, 2009 2:51 PM | Report abuse

I've been drinking unsweetened almond milk for years and love it. I've heard some scary things about soy but never knew how much stock to put into them. The thing I can't figure out is if I'm exposing myself to unnecessary pesticides by drinking the Blue Diamond brand. I can't find any info on this. I also wasn't aware that there were soy ingredients in it. Thanks for the piece.

Posted by: xtinal | November 3, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

xtinal,Pacific makes an organic almond milk.Soy milk that's not organic,such as Silk,has lots of problems.

Posted by: grandmother6 | November 3, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

As a pediatrician with a special interest in nutrition, I cannot stress the science that supports consumption of milk in general, and cow's milk in particular. The alternatives suggested in this article do not provide the nutrients of cow milk, which is a documented excellent source of calcium, Vitamin D and A, potassium and protein. The health benefits of drinking milk are well documented and are backed by the nutrition and science community. This includes the National Osteoporosis Foundation [], US Surgeon General [], National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [] and the AAP[;117/2/578] to name a few. More information for parents is available at Thank you.

Posted by: jatindeb | November 3, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

grandmother6 - can you please elaborate on the types of problems?

For me personally, I'm not looking to replace my general consumption of milk. I'm looking for a replacement for the Coffee Mate & similiar creamers that I use in my coffee daily. So not a big amount, but I want some body, some flavor, no cholesterol or partially hydrogenated garbage.

Posted by: Post43 | November 3, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Girls ages 9-18 need even more calcium, so the key is to get calcium and its BFF, vitamin D, from lots of sources throughout the day. That, plus physical activity, is the best way to build the best bones forever:

Posted by: darcylaine | November 3, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Comparing the pseudo "milks" (soy, rice, and almond) to real milk, produced by a female mammal,is just plain silly. They are chemically very different, even though additives (and the misleading label applied to the former) appear to make them seem similar.

It's as misleading to call any liquid produced from nuts, beans, or rice "milk" as it is to call a cubic zirconium a "diamond" or margarine "butter".

Posted by: WashingtonDame | November 3, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

WashingtonDame, this kind of reminds me of an article in this column from a hew weeks ago where an almond spread was dubbed a cheese. Good point.

I drink whole milk. I switched to it after reading up on the side affects of soy milk. For years I thought that I was lactose intolerant, but found that the fat in whole milk helps me digest the milk. The body needs a bit of saturated fat. I find that my energy levels have increased, and I've lost weight. Please keep in mind that the animal products that I ingest are pastured, hormone-free, and if possible, unpasteurized. Some might claim that this isn't possible for the average family, but you need to really break down where and how you spend money. I don't spend more each month than the average person, but it takes some effort. I believe that my health is worth it.

Posted by: MzFitz | November 3, 2009 7:17 PM | Report abuse

MzFitz, I am lactose-intolerant, so I just drink the lactose-free version (fat-free). I admit that I am very biased toward dairy products; I love milk, yogurt, and all types of cheese. I'd rather give up chocolate than milk. But what gets my goat (haha) is that the sloppy thinking that says just that just because something is called a "milk" it can legitimately be compared to real milk. If people like liquids based on rice, almonds or soy, the more power to them, but really, calling those liquids "milk" is just misleading.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | November 3, 2009 7:40 PM | Report abuse

Conventional medical experts are usually universally wrong - especially about fats. Mankind has thrived on dairy products since the beginning of time for our species... the highest accolade for a region was - land of milk and honey.

Medical experts were wrong about the avocado - the world's healthiest fruit - and warned us to limit our intake of guacamole. Avocado oil is the healthiest oil for the skin and is a natural sunscreen.

Medical experts were wrong about consuming too many eggs. Eggs are high in protein and vitamins and are easily digested. Their fat content is nothing to worry about.

Medical experts are wrong about taking aspirin. By age 40, we should all be taking an aspirin a day. It is true it can cause stomach bleeding in a small population, however the health benefits are way beyond our current understanding. Aspirin's anti-inflammatory properties help prevent dozen of diseases including cancer.

Medical experts are wrong invariably on vitamins and minerals. Most of the flawed medical research on vitamins is designed to fail. We should all be taking Vitamin C and Vitamin D everyday and eating fish every week.

Posted by: alance | November 3, 2009 9:01 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for all your interesting and informative comments -- and my apologies to those who found this blog entry hard to read because of the way it was formatted.

You raised so many issues that I plan to revisit this topic in a couple of months. Look for a followup after the first of the year.

Thanks again for reading and taking time to comment!


Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | November 4, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

I'm lactose-intolerant.

I put unsweetened, plain soy milk "creamer" in my coffee, and occasionally have cereal with unsweetened plain soy milk.

How safe is it? Is there a better alternative?

Posted by: chunche | November 4, 2009 5:52 PM | Report abuse

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