Is Milk Really Just Milk?

Assortment of different kinds of nut milk

Are all kinds of milk created equal?

You’ve probably noticed an explosion of choice in the milk section of your supermarket, particularly on the shelf. With increasing numbers of consumers choosing vegan lifestyles and the perception that non-dairy kinds are ‘healthier’, a whole new market has opened up for manufacturers. Firstly, let’s just clarify – all of the options we’re writing about today are nutritious and beneficial to your body. Let’s explore a few of the options…

Dairy

Dairy milk is low GI, high in protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphate and Vitamin B12. Making it naturally the most nutritious (providing close to 10g protein and 300mg calcium per 250ml serve) of all the kinds. There is a myth that ‘skim contains higher amounts of sugar’, or that ‘when they take out the fat they replace it with sugar’. This is completely incorrect. Skim milk does contain minute amounts of increased sugar (0.5g/250ml serve – so less than 1/10 teaspoon). This is due to the very small concentration that occurs when the fat is removed.  This 0.5g is largely insignificant when looking at your entire daily nutritional intake.

Given fat in dairy milk is animal-based (and thus predominantly a saturated fat) it can increase cholesterol levels. So if cholesterol is a concern, best to not drink too much of it. However, if you’re only drinking it in your tea, it really won’t make that much difference which you choose.

Lactose-Free

Lactose-free is a great first place to look if you are concerned milk isn’t ‘agreeing with your digestion’. It has exactly the same nutrition profile as regular dairy milk with the addition of lactase. This is the enzyme that breaks the lactose double sugar molecule into single sugar units. Otherwise, it’s exactly the same and mostly available in full fat, low fat and skim varieties.

Soy

Soy is the closest plant-based product that resembles the dairy nutrition profile while being naturally lactose-free and low Glycaemic Index. Its protein content is almost the same, with most soy milk being fortified to 300mg/serve (with some as high as 400mg/serve). Although they contain no Vitamin B12 (as is the case with other plant-based foods). Soy also contains good amounts of isoflavones, which are protective against heart disease and LDL-C (the ‘lousy’ one). Often people are concerned that soy products increase the risk of breast cancer however, 2 – 3 serves/day have been shown to lower the risk of all cancers (including breast cancer).

Almond or Macadamia

Almond and macadamia, as well as other, nut milks are increasing in popularity with the perception they are ‘more healthy’. While they are naturally lactose-free and low in saturated fats, they also contain minimal protein (less than 10% of dairy and soy). They also contain minimal calcium and carbohydrates, so provide very little nutrition overall. Most are not currently fortified with extra calcium. This is changing, however, so make sure your nut-based drink contains at least 300mg calcium/serve). It is certainly not suitable for anyone who struggles to get sufficient protein in their diet or are underweight. 

Rice

Similarly, rice milk is naturally lactose-free and contains very little saturated fat, protein or calcium (unless fortified). However they are very high in carbohydrates (mostly double that of dairy), so not a great choice for people with PCOS,  diabetes (or pre-diabetes), liver disease or someone wanting to lose weight (plenty of hidden sugars).

Oat

This is likely the least popular of all the alternatives, and very similar to the rice-based product above, with some extra fibre (5g/serve). However, oats are a gluten-containing grain and in turn, this is unsafe for people with coeliac disease.

If you’re looking for more in-depth information about the various options, Dietitians Australia has a great article with more information. Alternatively, whether you’re dealing with a health issue or simply wanting to ensure you’re consuming the healthiest options for your body, get in contact with SS Diets for a confidential chat.