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Unwise, Better, Best: Dairy & Dairy Alternatives

In the last several years plant-based dairy alternatives have been edging there way on to the shelf space that traditional milk has occupied at the grocery store. Plant-based dairy alternatives are increasing in popularity for a variety of reasons ranging from consumer health issues, such as lactose intolerance and milk allergies, to a concern of animal care and welfare.


So where do these beverages stand in the unwise, better, best line up?


When evaluating dairy and plant-based milk options, you should keep your personal health goals in mind and consider how the beverage fits into your overall plan. For example, if weight loss or blood glucose control are concerns, it is easy to label chocolate milk as an unwise option. However, research studying nutrition refueling strategies post-endurance activity shows that low-fat chocolate milk serves as an excellent and affordable recovery beverage.


With so many different brands and types of “milk”, it can be challenging to decide which to buy. If you are relying on plant-milk to provide calcium and other nutrients, you need to check the “Percent Daily Value” on the nutrition label. The good news is most plant-milks are fortified with calcium and contain the same or more calcium than what naturally occurs in milk. In addition, most plant-based milks are also fortified with B12, vitamin D, and iron. The protein content of plant-based milks can range from 0 to 8 grams.


Keeping the above in mind, here is a general line-up:



Higher in saturated fat and/or added sugar content. The plant-based milks included in this category lack protein.

  • Whole fat chocolate milk
  • Whole fat plain milk
  • Chocolate and vanilla nut milks
  • Coconut milk
  • Rice milk



Lower to no saturated fat, lower to no added sugar, but protein amounts content varies.

  • Lite Vanilla Soy milk,
  • Lite nut milks (low protein)
  • Vanilla Pea milk



Lowest or no saturated fat, lowest or no added sugar and a good source of protein.

  • Low fat and skim milk (ideally organic, grass-fed milk)
  • Original, unsweetened and lite soy milk
  • Original pea milk (also includes DHA Omega3)


Once again when choosing your “milk”, please remember to look at the big picture of how it fits into your overall nutrition plan. Quantity matters, but so does taste! If you only use a splash in your morning coffee, perhaps settling in with your favorite “Better” option works just fine. If you enjoy drinking 1 to 2 glasses every day and using it to make smoothies, then the nutrition profile is going to have a bigger impact and therefore selecting “Best” makes sense.


Finally, according to market research, the trend in plant-based dairy alternatives is anticipated to climb for the next few years. With even more options it will be just as important to carefully read the food label to help sort through your options.


When it comes to looking for options, the Fooducate app is a great place to start. It not only works as a calorie counter but also and a nutritional encyclopedia. Fooducate is an easy-to-use, free app on iTunes and Google Play that helps you make healthier food choices. For example, while at the grocery store, you can scan a packaged item’s barcode or search for food items and you’ll see its letter grade (A to D) with an explanation of its nutritional benefits, or lack thereof. This may be a great addition to your nutritional toolbox!
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