What’s the Difference Between Cow’s Milk and Non-Dairy Milk?

Whole or fat-free. Lactose-free. Almond, soy or rice. There are many options for milk, and an equal number of reasons why someone would choose one type over another. Blogger Kristin Hong, from The Fresh Find asked, “What is the difference between dairy milk, soy milk, almond milk, hemp milk and rice milk?”

To answer the question, we reached out to Dr. Dennis Savaiano, Interim Dean of the Honors College and Professor of Nutrition Science, Purdue University.

Dr. Dennis Savaiano: “Cow’s milk is a rich source of calcium, potassium, riboflavin, protein and other essential nutrients. Cow’s milk is fortified with vitamin D, and vitamin A for low-fat/non-fat types. Calcium, potassium and vitamin D are particularly critical in the US diet. Cow’s milk comes in a variety of fat levels, depending on the desire of the consumer. Well-controlled research studies show that most individuals who are lactose-intolerant can drink an 8-ounce serving of milk with a meal and not have symptoms. Yogurts are also well tolerated. Regular consumption of milk adapts the intestinal bacteria to make individuals more tolerant. Low-lactose milks are available as well as enzyme supplements to improve lactose digestion.

The other ‘milks’ listed often are fortified with calcium and vitamins to improve their nutritional value. There is variety among these non-dairy ‘milks’ based on manufacturers fortification and no clear national guidelines. The consumer must read the label on each product to determine the nutritional value and choose non-dairy ‘milks’ based on their personal preferences.”

Also, a reader heard that if you’re trying to lose weight, you should avoid dairy foods because lactose turns to sugar, and sugar then turns to fat. Is there any truth to this?

Dr. Dennis Savaiano: “Cow’s milk contains protein, carbohydrates and fat. Non-fat milk has the fat removed. Calories consumed in excess of need will turn to fat in the body. This is true regardless of the nutrient source. There is no special effect of cow’s milk in this regard. Many of the non-dairy ‘milks’ are sweetened and may have more calories. Again, the consumer must read the labels carefully as there is much variety in these products.”

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