Milk alternatives: What’s the difference?

By: Sep 12, 2012
soy milk

Learn the differences between almond, rice and soy milk.

If you are like as many as 80% of Canadians, you will experience lactose intolerance at some point in your life. Inability to digest things with lactose (most notably, milk) will cause you to quest for an alternative product to put in your cereal and coffee. There are several great alternatives that won’t have you missing milk at all.

Almond Milk
Almond milk is a favourite milk alternative when taste buds are put to the test. It is simply made from ground almonds and water. Unlike cow’s milk, almond milk is void of cholesterol and saturated fat. However, it does have those highly sought-after omega-3 fatty acids – which means it’s heart healthy!

Although almond milk is rich in nutrients, its major downfall is that it lacks the calcium content of other milk alternatives. If you are lactose intolerant or vegan, you will have to source your calcium from broccoli or kale.

Soy Milk
Soy milk is a bit of an acquired taste. Very few people can transition from a glass of milk to a glass of soy without wincing a bit. With that said, if you can tolerate the taste, soy milk has many nutritional benefits. It has the calcium that almond milk lacks – which is great news for people who dread eating loads of leafy greens in order to meet their daily serving of calcium. It also has about the same levels of protein as cow’s milk. Soy milk can be used as a substitute in some types of baking (but not all).

Soy, being plant-based, does not have cholesterol or saturated fat. It does have some isoflavones, which are miraculous little chemicals found in plants that may help lower cholesterol. The main downside of soy is that it has some effects on hormones, so it is not recommended for women who have suffered from breast cancer.

Rice Milk
Rice milk is made from brown rice. It is easy enough to make on your own if you are so inclined. It is a very low fat alternative to cow’s milk and also contains no cholesterol. It is thinner in texture than other types of milk.

The downside of rice milk is that it lacks protein. You can get about 1 gram of protein per glass of rice milk (versus 8 grams in cow’s milk). Rice milk is often sweetened, which adds to its caloric and carbohydrate content. You may be able to find fortified rice milk that has enough calcium to supplement your diet, but there is no naturally-occurring calcium in rice milk. It is not recommended for young children due to its paltry nutritional profile.

If you are vegan or suffering from symptoms of lactose intolerance, put each of these milk alternatives to the test. There are several brands out there so don’t give up if you don’t find one palatable. Soy milk is going to be your best source of calcium. Try a vanilla-flavoured variety in your bowl of cereal. If you can’t stomach the chalky taste of soy, opt for almond or rice milk and be prepared to substitute your diet to be sure that you get enough calcium.