Talking about alternative milks, like soy, almond, sesame, kamut and many more vs. cow’s milk has become a trending topic lately. So I thought about posting the nutritional information for some of these milks and compare them to cow’s milk, just so you are informed of how things really are.

Almond Milk No Sugar   Soy Milk No Sugar   Whole Cow’s Milk
Nutritional Information Nutritional Information Nutritional Information
Portion Size 1 cup (250ml) Portion Size 1 cup (250ml) Portion Size 1 cup (250ml)
Calories 30 Calories 83 Calories 170
Calories from fat 23 Calories from fat 36 Calories from fat 80
Daily Value Daily Value Daily Value
Total Fat 2.5 g 4% Total Fat 5 g 8% Total Fat 9g 14%
     Saturated 0 g 0%      Saturated 1 g 6%      Saturated 5g 25%
Colesterol 0 mg 0% Colesterol 0 mg 0% Colesterol 30 mg 10%
Sodium 150 mg 6% Sodium 85 mg 4% Sodium 115 mg 5%
Potasium 150 mg 4% Potasium 300 mg 8% Potasium 0 g 0%
Carbohydrate Total 1g 1% Carbohydrate Total 4g 1% Carbohydrate Total 13g 4%
     Fiber 1 g 4%      Fiber 1 g 4%      Fiber 2 g 10%
     Sugar 0 g      Sugar 1 g      Sugar 0g
Protein 1 g 2% Protein 7 g  14% Protein 8g 16%
Vitamin A 0% Vitamin A 0% Vitamin A 35%
Vitamin C 0% Vitamin C 0% Vitamin C 0%
Vitamin D 0% Vitamin D 0% Vitamin D 35%
Calcium 15% Calcium 4% Calcium 25%
Iron 2% Iron 10% Iron 0%
Magnesium 4% Magnesium 10% Magnesium 0%
Phosphorus 10% Phosphorus 0% Phosphorus 20%

Calories

Let’s start by reviewing the calories, cow’s milk at a first glance contains more energy, than the rest, yet if we look at the main nutrients it is easy to understand that this amount of energy comes mainly from fat, especially saturated, which the other type of milks don’t have. Almond Milk is the lowest in calorie and calories from fat.

Fat and Cholesterol

Cow’s milk is the only milk that provides cholesterol, covering 10% of the daily requirement. The estimated daily requirement for cholesterol is no more than 300 mg, which is established taking into account that exogenous cholesterol (that which comes from food) is not essential because the body has the ability to produce endogenous cholesterol (on his own) from other molecules. Today, the majority of the population exceeds this requirement on a daily basis, which clearly is a leading cause of many non communicable diseases, and that is why this nutrient is not essential on milk.

Protein

As for protein, soy milk has more grams than almond milk, yet cow’s milk is the highest contributor of the three. One of the most common beliefs is that grains such as soybeans and almonds contain very little protein, however in the following table we can see that it is not necessarily true.

Portion size equivalent to 7 g of protein *1
Chicken Breast 23g
Tuna 24g
Matured Cheese 28g
Ground Beef 30g
Egg 56g
Peanuts 30g
Soy 42g
Peas 100g

Now we know that the difference in portion size of grains or nuts for a contribution on protein equal or similar to that provided in foods of animal origin is not very big. Also it’s important to take into account that although the portion increases slightly (about 10 g) the energy will not be necessarily much higher, and that is because fat and cholesterol content are very different from vegetables to cows milk. There is also the concern of whether this protein is less digestible/absorbable than animal protein. A protein is considered of high biological value when it provides suitable proportions of all essential amino acids (essentials understood by those that the body can not produce by itself then it must come from food). This is why vegetable protein is considered to have a low biological value as a single food. When vegetables are appropriately distributed and consumen all the essential amino acids requirements will be covered, and that is one of the most important processes vegans should watch out. Vegetarians who consume dairy products and eggs obtain protein intake of these foods. It is interesting though, that many studies have found that although protein intake in vegetarians and vegans, athletes included, despite being lower than that of non-vegetarians, also meet and sometimes exceed the daily recommendation. * 2 * 3

Calcium

Regarding calcium, it is important to know that the absorption of this nutrient is affected by the presence of other nutrients and compounds like:

Protein
Phosphorus
Fat
Sodium
Vitamin D
Oxalate
Phytates

Diets high in sodium or protein tend to have a higher calcium requirement and that because they both promote a greater loss of calcium through urine. Protein increases the fluid filtration in the kidneys as well as increased production of acid in the blood so the pH of the body tends to become acidic. Minimal change in pH causes the body to exert bone resorption (release of calcium and minerals in the blood) in order to neutralize the pH again. That said, a plant-based diet or low consumption of animal foods, is a diet that will require less calcium intake, as the loss will be diminished. * 2 It is interesting to note that multiple studies have found that an increased consumption of animal protein causes an increased risk of hip fracture * 3.

It is true that many vegetables contain oxalates (molecules that can cause kidney stones) so you might be questioning if vegetables affect calcium absorption as well. Just as there is a high biological value protein, there is also a high bioavailability calcium, which means that a large percentage of a certain amount found in a food portion is absorbed. The American Association of Nutritionists and Dietitians of Canada explains that there are plants with low levels of oxalates such as Broccoli, asparagus and cauliflower among others who have a calcium bioavailability between 49-61% vs 31-31% of cow’s milk and 21 to 24% for soy, almond or sesame milk. * 3 This is why those who live on a plant-based diet don’t need to worry about the vegetable milks not contributing the same amount of calcium as cow’s milk, since they will get it from other sources while nutrition is well balanced.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A or Retinol is found only in animal products, yet vegetarians or vegans obtain vitamin A as beta-carotene, a molecule that is converted to vitamin A. Beta-carotene can not be obtained from milk, but certainly the requirement is covered consuming at least three servings of foods such as apricots, mango, pumpkin, or carrots, which are foods rich in beta-carotene and high bioavailability. Again it is crucial to have a varied and balanced diet that allows a fulfillment of all requirements.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a nutrient that plays a role in the formation and maintenance of healthy bones. It is found in cow’s milk in the form of Vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol and as ergocalciferol or vitamin D2, which is not of animal origin and is the type of vitamin D used to fortify foods. However for these molecules to be converted into the active form of vitamin D there should be a proper sunlight exposure. 15 minutes of exposure of face and hands are enough to transform the molecules and provide the body with the amount of vitamin D needed. Vegetarians who do not consume dairy products, or even vegans, have no food sources of vitamin D so it is recommended to consume vegetable milks or other foods such as cereals and margarines that are fortified with vitamin D to prevent deficiency.

Have more questions about milk? Any opinions or experiences to share? We’re here to help! Comments welcome.

Namaste,

María Paula Estela, N.D

Referencias

*1 Dietary animal and plant protein and human bone health: A whole foods approach. Massey, Linda K. The Journal of Nutrition; Mar 2003
*2 Dietary calcium: Adequacy of a vegetarian diet. Weaver, Connie; Plawecki, Karen. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; May 1994
*3 Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian diets Anonymous. Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research; Summer 2003
*4 Nutritiondata, for composition. http://nutritiondata.self.com/
*5 Calorie Count. The Strength in numbers. http://caloriecount.about.com/

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