To start with, milk offers more nutrients per penny than almost any other beverage option in the grocery store and is one of the most nutrient-rich foods on your grocery list. Milk is a great source of calcium and is naturally rich in vitamin B12. Milk also provides a natural nutrient package that soy and other calcium-fortified foods can’t beat.
In addition, milk provides the same great nutrient package every time, no matter which brand you choose. Milk is required to conform to a federal standard of identity, which governs fat content and nutritional fortification levels; soy and other substitute beverages are not required to conform to a standard of identity.
Ounce for ounce, milk is far and away the best source of calcium for your money. Milk substitute beverages are poor natural sources of calcium so they must be fortified to be calcium-rich, unlike milk. Soy beverage companies use different methods to fortify their products, depending on the brand, and there is no federal standard of the nutrient profile of the product.
Calcium absorption from substitute beverages is dependent upon what type of calcium fortifier will be utilized. Some fortificants provide calcium absorption similar to that of cow’s milk, while calcium from other substitute beverages can be up to 25% less well absorbed than cow milk calcium. Substitute beverage manufacturers are not required to disclose which fortificant is used; thus consumers may find it difficult to make informed choices. Additionally, the calcium in substitute beverages tends to settle at the bottom of the container and even shaking the container doesn’t completely distribute the mineral within the product. You would actually need the equivalent of a hardware store paint shaker to suspend the calcium.
If you are considering a milk alternative because you think you might suffer from lactose intolerance, consider trying lactose-free dairy products. They provide the same nutritional benefits found in traditional dairy foods except the lactose (milk sugar) is already broken down for you. There are a wide variety of lactose-free dairy products available in the dairy aisle of most grocery stores including reduced-fat, low-fat, fat-free and chocolate milk, ice cream and cottage cheeses just to name a few. The results of a taste acceptance study of 893 adults aged 18 to 64 indicate that lactose-free milks score substantially better regarding taste acceptance and liking than do soy beverage products.
Science shows that consuming at least three daily servings of milk, cheese and yogurt not only helps people meet their daily calcium requirements, but may reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as osteoporosis, obesity and heart disease. Low-fat and fat-free milk, cheese and yogurt are nutrient-rich and they contribute significant nutrition to Americans’ diets. Nutrition experts agree milk and milk products are an important and practical source of key nutrients for all people – including those who are lactose intolerant.
(Heaney, RP et al. Not all calcium fortified beverages are equal. Nutrition Today. 2005; 40(1): 39-44.)
(Palacios OM, et al. Consumer Acceptance of Cow’s Milk Versus Soy Beverages: Impact of Ethnicity, Lactose Tolerance And Sensory Preference Segmentation. Journal of Sensory Studies, 2009; 24:5.)
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