Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Milk: Which Do You Choose?

"Milk: it does the body good!" Got it? Not so fast. While decades of advertisement and scientific study have told us that dairy is a cornerstone of good health, recent scholarship has began to shed doubt on these long-standing claims. And we shouldn't be surprised: the average gallon of milk sold today is packed with antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides that cows and their food are treated with. Organic milk isn't necessarily safe from these; there is a lot of debate as to what qualifies as organic, and food labels like "natural" can be extremely misleading. The milk sold today just isn't the same milk our grandparents drank: it is commercially produced at a high volume that makes use of excessive processing. Of course, it isn't just these chemicals that make milk a questionable nutritional option. Think practically: as infants, we drink the milk of our mother until we reach about eighteen months. After that, our bodies (and the bodies of our mothers) instinctively wean us off this milk, just like dogs, cats, or cows. Our bodies were only built to drink milk at a young age-- hence the high rate of lactose intolerance developed in adults. As one of my high school biology teachers told me, "it's just unnatural for one animal to drink the milk of another! Can you imagine feeding your dog human breast milk?"

Of course you wouldn't.
Now, it's still important to recognize that the wealth of health benefits derived from milk are absolutely real. Many nutrients are derived from the drink: vitamins D, A, protein, and-- most notably-- calcium. While we have been raised to consider milk the most convenient way to get these nutrients, the fact is that many more natural, healthy alternatives exist... and some are even inspired by our favorite drink!

While there are a variety of ways to go about getting your milk fix-- cereal can be hard to give up, right?-- for now we will cover four of the most popular non-dairy "milk" products: soy, rice almond, and coconut milk. Each comes in a variety of brands and flavors, so in the sake of fairness we will examine the "regular" version of the most popular brands. The milks will be judged for nutrition, cost, other flavors, and taste (which is admittedly highly subjective). Here goes!

For a comparison point, we will use 2% Dairy Milk. Its nutrients of note (in 8 oz):
122 cal (43 from fat), 5 g fat, 12 g carbohydrates (0 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 8 g protein, 9% of your daily Vitamin A intake, and 29% of your daily calcium intake

Soy milk (Silk)

When I ventured away from dairy milk, the first type of milk I tried was soy milk. Obviously, it was tasty enough to lure me away from conventional milk for good.
Silk Original comes in two forms. Like many non-dairy milks, there is a shelf-stable variety that can be stored up to twelve months (translation: if it's on sale or you find a great coupon, you can buy it even if you don't need it yet!) While the vanilla flavor is Silk's most popular (and delicious), the original packs a tasty punch that won't leave you missing dairy.

Nutrients: 90 cal (30 from fat), 3.5 g fat, 8 g carbohydrates (1 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 6 g protein, 10% of your daily vitamin A intake, and 45% of your daily calcium.
...So what? With six grams of soy protein in every eight ounces, you're getting 2g less protein than you would in 2% dairy milk. However, Silk Soy milk is clearly superior to dairy in caloric, fat, carbohydrate, and calcium content.
Cost: $0.11/oz for a six pack of the shelf stable variety on amazon.

Taste: With a slightly nutty aftertaste (apparently a new development), Silk feels slightly thicker than dairy milk but goes down much more smoothly. As far as milk varieties go, the taste gets a 6/10. For a delicious taste with only a few more calories, try the vanilla-- it goes perfectly with cereal!

Flavors: Vanilla, Chocolate, Very Vanilla, DHA-Omega 3 (Plain), Organic Vanilla, Organic Original, Organic Unsweetened, Light Vanilla, Light Chocolate, and Light Original 
(Note: all light favors are sweetened with Stevia)

Rice milk (Rice Dream) 

Rice Dream is the overwhelmingly popular variety of rice milk made from organic brown rice. It can be found in both shelf stable and refrigerated forms.
Nutrients: 120 cal (20 from fat), 2.5 g fat, 23 g carbohydrates (0 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 1 g protein, 10% of your daily vitamin A intake, and 30% of your daily calcium. Also a significant source of Vitamin B12 (25%), Vitamin D (25%), and Phosphorous (15%).
...So what? Rice milk trumps dairy milk in its vitamin and mineral content. However, the low protein and high sugar value make it less appealing than other milk varieties.

Cost: $0.09/oz for a twelve pack of the shelf stable variety on amazon.

Taste: Definitely does not taste like dairy. It's thin, watery, and has a taste reminiscent of oat and something else I can't put my finger on. Closer to water than milk, but some may enjoy the lighter taste. A 4/10.

Flavors: Vanilla is available in both refrigerated and self stable form, but the rest are shelf stable form only: Enriched Chocolate, Heartwise Original, Heartwise Vanilla, Supreme Chocolate Chai, and Supreme Vanilla Hazelnut.

Almond milk (Silk)  

While Almond Dream sells another popular variety, we will review Silk in the interest of control. In the interest of full disclosure, this is my absolute favorite after sampling all three.
Nutrients: 60 cal (25 from fat), 2.5 g fat, 8 g carbohydrates (1 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 1 g protein, 10% of your daily vitamin A intake, and 45% of your daily calcium. Also a significant source of Vitamin B12 (50%), Vitamin D (25%), and Riboflavin (25%). 
...So what? As low calorie as milk substitutes get (the unsweetened flavor has just 35 calories!), the taste is unbeatable and the nutrition is impossibly good for those watching their weight.

Cost: $0.08/oz for a six pack of the shelf stable variety on amazon.

Taste: While the taste is undeniably nutty-- it takes a bit to get used to-- it tastes much more indulgent than its 60 calories without being too thick. Surprisingly good with cereal and coffee (although not as good as Silk Vanilla Soy Milk). On its own, though, nothing is better. 8.5/10

Flavors: Vanilla, Dark Chocolate, and Unsweetened.

Coconut milk (Silk)  

One of the newest nondairy milks, PureCoconut lets you buy into the current craze for coconut in our drinks.

Nutrients: 80 cal (50 from fat), 5 g fat, 7 g carbohydrates (0 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 1 g protein, 10% of your daily vitamin A intake, and 45% of your daily calcium. Also a significant source of Vitamin B12 (50%) and Vitamin D (25%).. 
...So what? The nutrients and calories have regular milk beat, although Coconut milk doesn't compare to almond or soy milk.

Cost: Not yet listed (will update soon!)

Taste: Despite the expected richness, Silk's coconut milk is surprisingly watery, with a strong aftertaste that is difficult to get used to. I love coconut, but coconut milk is like coconut water in its distinct taste. If you LOVE coconut water you might like this; otherwise, expect it to be an acquired taste. I give it a 5/10 here.

Flavors: Original and Vanilla (pictured)


  1. My husband loves soy milk :) I like it too...especially on cereal. :)


  2. ew coconut milk.. i choose soy milk!

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    Have a blessed day.

    I love Soy milk.