Milk or Mlyk - Your Perfect Match
There’s no doubt that milk packs a punch when it comes to nutrition but with the rise of milk alternatives, it leaves us wondering, is there any difference? Whether you are choosing cows’ milk or milk alternatives I’m here to deliver the facts, so you can make the right choice for you.
Milk has always been promoted as the top choice as it’s a great source of calcium. Calcium is stored in our bones and teeth and the main role is to support the health of our skeleton to prevent osteoporosis and ensure the proper functioning of neuromuscular and cardiac function. Additionally, Vitamin D and exercise also play a role.
The recommended daily intake (RDI) for males 19-70 years is 1,000mg/day and 1,000mg/day for females 19-50 years old, with >70-year old’s needing 1,300mg/day (note recommendations based on healthy Australian population). So, let's translate that into food. Meeting your RDI can be as easy as 1 cup of milk + 2 slice cheese and 1 pot of yogurt. The absorption of calcium from no dairy-based products can be impacted by high oxalate and phytate content, therefore, a vegan or vegetarian diet may influence calcium needs.
However, it’s not only about calcium. Milk is made up of macronutrients and micronutrients. If choosing a milk alternative, you want to make sure you’re choosing milk with a similar nutrition profile to cow’s milk.
Macronutrients are nutrients we need in large amounts and within milk, you’ll find a balance of protein, fats, and carbohydrates (in the form of lactose). The composition of the three macronutrients will differ from full-cream to low fat and skimmed.
Milk is an excellent source of protein which plays a role in muscle growth and repair, whilst carbohydrates are the bodies first preference of fuel and fat, which is usually a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fat can lead to high satiety levels and balanced hormones.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals, nutrients we need in small amounts. The main minerals present in milk are calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. Along with vitamins such as thiamine, B12 and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K). These micronutrients play a role in healthy bones and teeth, blood pressure and metabolic processes.
In addition, milk can also be fortified (added nutrients), enriched (enhance the number of nutrients that are already present) or lactose-free (removal of lactose).
Why mylk alternatives?
Milk alternatives have become popular over the past 5 years due to milk allergies, lactose intolerance, veganism, and personal preferences. However, not all milk is created equal with the composition of the macronutrients and micronutrients differing largely.
Legumes = soy
Cereal = oats, rice
Nuts = almond
*Milk alternatives not suitable for children due to additional nutrition requirements to support growth and development. Contact an Accredited Practicing Dietitian for individual advice.
As mentioned previously when making a swap to alternative milk you want to ensure the nutrition composition is similar to cow’s milk. In the above table Soy milk is the preferred choice, however food and drink choices are not black and white. The choice is also influenced by taste preference, availability, and values.
What to look out for when choosing a milk alternative
Fortification - milk alternatives have a lower concentration of calcium and therefore need to be fortified.
Protein – To compare protein look at the nutrition panel and compare the per 100ml of cow’s milk to the per 100ml of your milk alternative.
Added sugar - Some milk alternatives may sweeten their drinks. I’m not against sugar however I prefer to eat a cake instead of a sweet drink.
Carbohydrates – Don’t confuse added sugar with carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are naturally occurring sugars (lactose).
Vegan and vegetarian friendly milk alternatives
If you choose to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, you’ll be happy to know that milk alternatives are vegan-friendly as they were specifically made for those that choose or can’t drink cow’s milk. When in doubt check individual products.
Calcium-rich foods to add to your plate
Now whilst the nutrition content of the below products can differ depending on the brand, processing and other factors this will provide a guide of some of the calcium-rich foods to add to your diet.
Recommendations are for healthy population groups only. Different life stages and medical conditions require individualized care.