Cow, Soy, Rice and Almond Milk…What's the Difference?

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Most people have heard they should drink milk to keep their bones healthy, but what is the difference between all the different types of milk available? Cow’s milk is the most commonly consumed milk in the United States, but some people are intolerant, allergic or just prefer not to drink it. Fortunately there are several varieties of milk for people to choose from.

  • Cow’s milk: Known for its calcium content, as a one-cup serving provides 30% of the Dietary Reference Intakes. Cow’s milk is a source of protein with 8 grams per serving and provides many essential nutrients including potassium, riboflavin, phosphorus and vitamins D, A and B-12. Calories, fat and cholesterol will vary depending on the type of milk (for example, whole, skim).
  • Soy milk: Sometimes referred to as soy drink, soy milk is a beverage made from soybeans. Soy milk has a similar fat and protein content to cow’s milk, but unlike some cow’s milk it has little to no saturated fat and cholesterol. Most brands of soymilk will be fortified with calcium, as natural soy milk has little digestible calcium. Soy milk is often chosen because of lactose intolerance as well as the potential health benefits of soy proteins and isoflavones. Calorie and sugar content will vary with the flavor of the beverage (for example, unsweetened, chocolate).
  • Rice milk: Primarily made from brown rice, commonly unsweetened. Rice milk contains more carbohydrates than cow’s milk, but does not contain significant amounts of calcium or protein and no cholesterol or lactose. Most brands of rice milk are fortified with vitamins and minerals, including calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin B3 and iron. Rice milk is most often consumed by people who are lactose intolerant, allergic to soy or have PKU.
  • Almond milk: A non-dairy beverage made from real almonds. Compared to cow’s milk, unsweetened almond milk is significantly lower in calories and free of cholesterol and saturated fat. Almond milk is not a significant source of protein, but is filled with heart- healthy unsaturated fats and vitamin E. Similar to soy and rice milk, almond milk is fortified to be a good source of calcium and vitamin D. Almond milk is often chosen because of soy allergies or by those looking for a lower-calorie alternative to cow’s milk. Calorie and sugar content will vary with the flavor of the beverage (for example, unsweetened, chocolate).

All of the milks above can be part of a healthy diet; as with anything, moderation is the key. Below is a great smoothie recipe using almond milk.


Raspberry-Banana Recovery Smoothie

All you need

  • 3 medium bananas, peeled, sliced and frozen
  • 1/4 cup fresh raspberries
  • 2 cups plain almond milk
  • 1 heaping tbsp natural almond butter
  • 1 tbsp agave nectar
  • 1 tbsp ground chia seeds

All you do

  1. Combine all ingredients in blender. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

Source: Hy-Vee Seasons Garden 2010.

The information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.

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