Milk allergy is one of the most common allergies among kids. With the availability of wide variety of dairy alternatives, it is important to understand which offers the most health benefits. Soy, almond, rice, coconut, and even pea milks vie for attention alongside cow’s milk. These make great alternative for people who are lactose intolerant or have milk allergy. However, nutritional differences vary widely between plant-based milks and traditional cow’s milk.
Soy milk was one of the first dairy alternatives on the market and is the one most closely related to traditional cow’s milk. For example, it’s the only plant-derived milk containing complete protein, and it has more protein than any other plant milk.
Flavored soy milks contain a lot of added sugar. Soy milk was once adopted as a dairy alternative over concerns that the fat in cow’s milk was bad for overall health. However, science has shown that sugar is the real culprit, making the approximately 8 grams of sugar in flavored soy milk detrimental.
Unflavored soy milk contains very little sugar, making it a viable non-dairy milk option for health conscious consumers. But unflavored milk has bad taste and has substances that may reduce digestion.
While the almond nut is an excellent source of protein, in milk form it is drastically watered down and offers very little in the way of protein.
On the plus side, almond milk is low in calories compared to cow’s milk and other non-dairy milks. Unfortunately, the added saturated fats, sugars and carrageenan -- which causes digestive issues for many people -- mean almond milk might not be the best alternative to cow’s milk.
Rice milk has high carbohydrate count and little protein, making it less attractive as a sole source for nutrition in kids.
Coconut milk is rich in fat content, mostly saturated fats, which helps reduce bad cholesterol in the body. It is not a good source of protein and has very few calories.
There’s a good reason that cow’s milk has been the standard for centuries. Cow’s milk contains the protein, calcium, and vitamin D that are essential for muscle and bone health, and it contains them without having to be fortified.
Cow’s milk does have some issues. For example, the lactose sugar found in cow's milk is difficult for many people to digest. Dairy allergies in children are relatively common, although most children do tend to outgrow it. The upside is that cow's milk also contains some antimicrobial properties, and has been shown to help infants fight fevers and respiratory infections, something no plant-based milk can claim.
Look for organic milk, which is guaranteed to come from cows not treated with growth hormones. When cows are allowed to graze on grass, their milk contains more of the essential fatty acids that help reduce heart disease. These fatty acids are omega-3 and conjugated linoleic acid, and they are found in much lower concentrations when cows are fed a diet of processed grain. And organic milk is required to come from grass-fed cows. To top off the increased benefits, organic milk is purported to be richer in the creamy flavor that plant-based milks attempt to recreate.
While plant-based milks can be a good alternative for people with milk allergy, it's clear that cow's milk remains the standard in terms of nutritional value.
- Sai Kranthi Kumar Vanga, PhD Candidate, Lona Sandon, R.D ; Nov. 2, 2017, Journal of Food Science Technology
- Nutritionally speaking soy milk best plant based milk. https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/channels/news/nutritionally-speaking-soy-milk-best-plant-based-milk-284229