Different vegan milks on a table. Hazelnut, rice, soya and almond milk. Substitute for dairy milk.

An article entitled Which Milk Is Most Nutritious: Soy, Cashew, Almond or Coconut?” was recently published in the New York Times discussing the nutrient differences between popular plant based milk products. As a registered dietitian who often gives grocery store tours, I frequently get questions about the differences between cow’s milk versus plant based milks. “Which milk should I give my child? Which milk should I keep away from my child?” The food industry does a great job of marketing these plant based milk products to look as if they are the mecca of health food. To see if these plant based milk products are all their packaging says they’re cracked up to be, let’s take a look…

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Almond milks and cashew milks are packed with protein in their natural state, the nut beverage lose a lot of the nutrients through the production process. Brands have been known to add in vegan protein sources such as rice protein or pea protein. Although these protein additives do in fact bump up the protein content on the label, scientists question how much of that protein is absorbed opposed to naturally occurring protein. (Keep in mind, there is also a pea milk to hit the market. Here’s what Cooking Light editors had to say about pea milk, Ripple.)

Soy milk is a popular milk alternative that contains about the same amount of protein as regular cow’s milk but provides no calcium. Some brands might fortify their product with calcium carbonate or phosphate to increase the calcium content on the nutrition facts label.

Coconut milk contains less than one gram of protein and trace amount of calcium.

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Cow’s milk contains eight grams of protein and one-third of the recommended Percent Daily Value of calcium in just one cup. Cow’s milk naturally contains nutrients like potassium and vitamin B12.

The Times’ article stated: “Cow’s milk contains lactose and casein, which help increase the absorption of calcium, and calcium helps absorb vitamin D,” said Sina Gallo, an assistant professor of nutrition and food studies at George Mason University. We all grew up on cow’s milk for a reason—the nutrients in cow’s milk all work together for optimal absorption. The Times’ article goes on to explain a study of children who drank plant based milk had lower vitamin D levels.

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If your child is lactose intolerant or has a severe milk allergy than cow’s milk should be avoided. Plant-based milks are wonderful options for children who suffer from sever allergies. If your child suffers from a milk allergy, consult a registered dietitian to make sure your child is getting the right amount of protein and calcium from additional foods for proper growth and development.

In summary, cow’s milk is a more nutritious option opposed to plant based milks if your child does not suffer from lactose intolerance or a milk allergy.

– By Samantha Pappas, RD, CPT, LDN, Dietitians of Palm Valley

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