Dairy-Free Milk Guide

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I’m grateful there are so many dairy-free beverage (DFB) options on the market. However, each DFB has its own list of pros and cons that may make you think twice before making your selection. Before I go further, I know these numbers will vary from brand to brand but I’m going to endeavour to use the most readily available options.

A Note About Soy Milk:

Despite it being high in protein, low in sugar (if you can find unsweetened soy milk… not available at Starbucks or Tim’s, but we appreciate their effort in providing DFB!), and calcium-fortified, there is some concern about soy being estrogenic. Research is divided on this subject, and the reason is because soy is an estrogen modulator. This means that if your estrogen is low, soy may raise levels, and if it is high, soy may lower levels.

However, given the lack of conclusive research surrounding soy, I would suggest you try to buy organic and alternate between soy and other beverages. To be on the safe side, please avoid if you have an estrogen-sensitive condition such as fibroids or breast cancer.

Okay – comparison time!

Sugar (per cup)

Sugar is one of the big downfalls of cow’s dairy and some DFB products. Most people don’t think about sugar as component of milk, but when you stop to think about it, of course baby cows need lots of sugar to grow! As adult humans, we don’t to get sugar from our milk products or our DFB. Remember, the American Heart Association’s daily recommended maximum sugar intake is 25g, so one cup of milk or rice milk in your cereal is half your daily intake.

  • Cow’s 2%, skim, or lactose-free milk – 12g
  • Unsweetened Rice milk – 12g
  • Unsweetened Oat – 4-8g
  • Unsweetened Soy – 1g
  • Unsweetened Almond – 0g
  • Unsweetened Coconut – 0g
  • Unsweetened Pea – 0g

Protein (per cup)

Adults need about 0.8g / kg of body weight of protein daily, and this can be tough to get for many people, especially vegans and vegetarians. This is where Pea or Soy might be great considerations because they have the highest amounts of protein in the DFB category. This the one major drawback of most DFB, as most contain little to no protein.

  • Cow’s 2%, skim, or lactose-free milk – 8g
  • Unsweetened Rice milk – 0g
  • Unsweetened Oat – 0g
  • Unsweetened Soy – 8g
  • Unsweetened Almond – 0g
  • Unsweetened Coconut – 0g
  • Unsweetened Pea – 9g

Calcium-Fortification (per cup)

The biggest question I get from people when we talk about being cow’s dairy-free is, “How will I get enough calcium?”. First, it’s important to understand that just because there is calcium in cow’s dairy does not mean that it contributes to healthy bones. Research shows that people ingesting cow’s dairy are not at lower risk of bone fractures, and instead are at higher risk of heart disease, ovarian and prostate cancer (Harvard review for more: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/calcium-and-milk/calcium-full-story/) .

Regardless, we need about 700-1200mg (depending on which resources you support) of calcium daily to support healthy bones, muscle contraction, and heart function. Most DFB are fortified with about 30% of our daily calcium requirement per cup.

  • Cow’s 2%, skim, or lactose-free milk – 30%
  • Unsweetened Rice milk – 22%
  • Unsweetened Oat – 23%
  • Unsweetened Soy – 30%
  • Unsweetened Almond – 30%
  • Unsweetened Coconut – 30%
  • Unsweetened Pea – 35%

Bottom Line

If you struggle with getting enough protein, then soy or pea are great options. If you’re worried about calcium then oat or rice may not be the best fit. If you struggle with food sensitivities, then consider switching up your DFB with each grocery shop. There are tons of great options out there (not mentioned: hemp, tiger nut, macadamia nut and cashew milks), it’s just about reading labels carefully and deciding what is best for you!

Book your appointment with Dr. Chambers here.

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