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May 27, 2011 at 1:34 PMComments: 4 Faves: 0

Dairy, Soy, Rice, Almond, Coconut, or Hemp: A Guide to Cow's Milk Alternatives

By Jessica Corwin MPH RDN More Blogs by This Author

Milk contains many of the nutrients essential for your growing child, including protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and of course dairy’s claim to fame, the bone-building mineral calcium. As milk, cheese, and yogurt are typically kid-approved these products offer an easy way to ensure our children are getting enough of the nutrients they need. One-cup of cow’s milk or yogurt contains around 300 milligrams of calcium, making it quite easy for 4 to 8 year olds to reach the recommended 800 milligrams each day or for 9 to 18 year olds to hit their 1,300 milligrams.

However, millions of Americans do not eat products made from cow’s milk. Whether due to a milk allergy, lactose intolerance, religious reasons, or personal beliefs this animal byproduct is not found in many homes. Although the dairy industry does a great job of convincing us we need cow’s milk for strong bones, there are plenty of alternatives – many of which possess an equivalent calcium profile and even greater health benefits. Here are my thoughts on the five most popular options in the supermarket:

Soy milk. Fortified soy milk is a delicious replacement for cow’s milk, providing an equal amount of calcium, no cholesterol, and almost as much protein. In fact, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Americans encourage soy milk as a healthy part of a balanced diet (! My personal favorite is Chocolate Silk (, though I prefer to use the plain flavor when I’m cooking or vanilla for my sweeter treats. Tip: I highly encourage you to find a soymilk made from organic soybeans.

Rice milk. Rice milk is bit sweeter than other options due to higher carbohydrate content, provides little protein, and typically contains a lesser amount of calcium. However, rice milk is void of the top eight common allergens and may therefore be the best option for an allergic child. If this is the case, be sure to find a fortified version and supplement with other sources of calcium in the diet to increase intake.

Almond milk. This nutty milk is rich, creamy, and yes, rich in the very nutrients provided by cow and soy milk. If you are concerned about the phytoestrogen ( ) affect of soy, almond milk may be the perfect solution. This option works great in smoothies and baking to boot!

Hemp milk. Although hemp milk is not as heavily marketed it is an increasingly popular option. Most people associate hemp and all things made from hemp with the famed drug of the 70’s, though I assure you that the minute trace amount of THC (if even that) will not yield any drug-like affects. Hemp milk ( ) is not only rich in calcium, but contains omegas-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as well!

Coconut milk. Depending on the version or brand, coconut milk can be a healthy source of calcium in the diet. Silk Pure Coconut ( contains more calcium than cow’s milk, though the entire 5 grams of fat per serving is from saturated fat. The health effect of saturated fat is currently up for debate as certain experts believe it may cause less of a negative impact ( ) than previously thought… regardless until the science is evident, saturated fat content remains a cautionary dietary component.

Each type of milk provides nutrients essential to health and I encourage you to pick up a carton of soy, almond, or hemp milk for a nutritious calcium source you can share with your entire family ( ). No matter which type you choose make sure it is in addition to a well-balanced diet rich in whole foods andyou will surely meet the needs of your child’s growing body.

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  • I like almond milk, but the second ingredient on many packages is cane syrup, which is sugar.

  • Excellent catch, Lydia! I often describe almond milk as flavored, fortified water as it provides negligible amounts of the protein and healthy fats found in whole almonds. Though for those already getting plenty of dairy or perhaps too much soy, or even those with dairy or soy allergies, almond milk is a good fit.

  • I drink unsweetened almond milk AND unsweetened chocolate almond milk (only 45 calories per serving) and they are both great! If you're trying to avoid sugar, they're both good options. :)

  • Thanks for sharing, Erin. I had no idea there was an unsweetened chocolate milk out there, I will have to try it out!

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