This is the second in a three-part series about dairy. This week's topic examines milk alternatives - soy, goat and almond milks. Part one compared raw milk with regular, pasteurized milk. In the final installment, local dairy farming will be discussed.
If fresh milk isn't available, and store-bought milk either doesn't agree with you or isn't appealing, there are some alternatives. Walk through the health food section of a large grocery store, and you'll see boxes of rice, soy and almond "milks" lining the shelves in sweetened, unsweetened and any number of flavors to please anyone's palate. More dairy cases are carrying variations on the shelf milks as well as coconut and goat's milks. How do these compare to cow's milk? This article will look at goat's milk, soy milk and almond milk, three of the most popular alternatives.
On the nutrition label, there is little difference between raw (or fresh) cow's milk and pasteurized cow's milk. Raw milk has around 10 more calories, one more gram of protein, one more gram of fat, one less gram of sugar and slightly more calcium. For comparison purposes, one cup of pasteurized whole milk's nutrition label reads something like calories, 146; fat, 8 g; cholesterol, 24 g; carbohydrates/sugar, 13/13 g; protein, 8 g; calcium, 276 mg (26 percent of the recommended Daily Value.) The differences are created by the pasteurization and homogenization processes that destroy beneficial bacteria and digestive enzymes and alter milk's fat cells to release free radicals.
T-L Photo/GLYNIS VALENTI
Most of the world drinks goat milk, and many people find it easier to digest than cow milk. Tasted here, Meyenberg Low Fat Goat Milk: consistency like whole cow’s milk; a little salty but tastes more like cow’s milk than expected; rich, creamy feel in the mouth.
There is lots of evidence showing goats to be one of the first domesticated animals, as early as 10,000 years ago. Goat milk cheese was a favorite of the pharaohs and is said to have been included with their treasures in the burial chambers. In fact, today 65 percent of the world's milk consumption is still of goat's milk. Nutritionally it is very close to cow's milk (one cup): calories, 168; fat, 10 g; cholesterol, 27 mg; carbs/sugar, 11/11 g; protein, 9 g; calcium, 33 percent of the Daily Value.
What makes goat milk preferable to some is that it's "naturally homogenized," meaning that the fat molecules are much smaller than those in cow milk and can stay blended and suspended. Because goat milk does not contain a compound called agglutinin, as does cow's milk, it will not separate (as cream rises to the top) eliminating the need for commercial homogenization. Research shows those smaller fat globules are easier for the human body to digest and can move through the system faster.
Chemically, goat milk is high in valuable potassium. During digestion the body can not only use that potassium, but the digestive process creates reactions that are more alkaline rather than acidic as in cow milk. In addition, researchers say that sugar compounds called oligosaccharides have anti-inflammatory properties, making digestion easier.
This more efficient digestive process may account for the fact that many lactose intolerant people can drink and eat goat milk products even though goat milk lactose levels are only slightly less. It does contain a lesser amount of the allergen, alpha s1 casein, said to be responsible for cow's milk allergies, especially in children, making goat milk an alternative in those cases.
On the down side, many Americans are turned off by the strong flavors of goat milk. However, using goat milk yogurt for dips or sprinkling goat milk cheeses on salads, pastas, pizzas and sandwiches will add a little zing to the dish.
For infants, goat milk does not have all of the nutrients found in cow milk. If the baby is allergic or intolerant but can drink goat milk, make sure the pediatrician prescribes additional vitamins.
Goat milk is more susceptible to heat than cow milk and will turn sour faster. Be sure that it's kept at the back of a cold grocery case and that it's put in the home refrigerator right away.
Two milk alternatives popular with vegetarians and vegans are soy and almond milks. Both are gluten-free, lactose-free, cholesterol-free and low in fat. Both contain a nice supply of omega-3 and omega-6 acids for healthy hearts, blood pressure, neurological functions and cholesterol levels. Their individual benefits differ, however, depending on one's age and goals.
Soy milk (also called soya milk) is made by soaking soy beans, grinding them with water at a ratio of around 10 parts water to one part soybeans, boiling the mixture and filtering it, a process that seems to have started in China around 25 AD. The result yields, per cup, about 105 calories; fat, 4g; carbs/sugar, 12/9 g; protein, 6 g. Unfortunately, though soy contains a healthy dose of calcium, it's bonded to the soy pulp which humans cannot digest. Therefore, most of that hefty calcium count in soy milk is calcium carbonate, and other vitamins like A, D and E are also added after the fact and not part of the original food. A high level of phytic acid in soy milk actually inhibits the assimilation of minerals, so it may not be the best choice for drinking by the glass.
Mark Bittman, New York Times food columnist and author, notes in his book "Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating," that soy milk is a good alternative for coffee, tea and cereal because of its high protein and for baking and cooking because it doesn't separate as do other substitutes.
Studies on the health benefits of soy are conflicting. Pregnant women and women with breast cancer are advised to drink almond milk instead of soy because some studies say soy sterols decrease progesterone production and counteract chemo and tamoxifen therapies. These same sterols may also adversely affect male fertility and sperm count. For those over 50 years of age, soy is said to reduce the effects of menopause and lower the risk of prostate cancer. Other studies label these findings inconclusive.
Buyers should read the labels, however. Many soy milks are made with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) because the soy beans are mass produced by industrial farms. Those that are not state it on the packaging. Vegetarians and vegans beware, also. Soy milk may still contain some dairy substances, for instance a lanolin-derived Vitamin D.
Almond milk has been drunk at least since the Middle Ages and is made by, no surprise, grinding almonds with water. Almonds have a lot of usable nutritional value that the body can process, and the milks use no animal products, so they are usually vegan-friendly.
It also has the lowest calorie content of these milks, weighing in at 60 per cup with 3 g of fat; 8/7 g of carbs/sugar; only 1 g of protein. Milks may be fortified with some calcium, but almonds contain a decent dose already (around 30 percent of the Daily Value). Check labels for added sweeteners, though, and it does not have the B vitamins found in regular milk. However, almonds are a natural source for Vitamin E which is not found in cow milk as well as manganese, zinc, potassium, magnesium, selenium and iron and flavonoids that reduce cancer risk and effects of aging.
If weight loss is your goal, try using almond milk. Bittman recommends the nutty flavor for enhancing coffee, grain dishes, desserts and soups. Almond milk does not have the conflicting studies about digestion, cancer and hormones, and it's certainly benign in regard to intolerances. Obviously, those with nut allergies should avoid almond milk, even if not allergic to almonds specifically. The nuts are often processed in plants that process other nuts as well.
There are many choices out there that will address taste and health concerns. These are the most popular and nutritious examples to substitute cow's milk. The photo captions with this article provide a little information during informal taste tests.