Milk Alternatives May Do A Body More Good

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I’ve never been a milk drinker. From the very moment I had any control over my diet, I stopped drinking it, unless a hearty squeeze of Hershey’s syrup was involved. Now, I use it merely for the occasional bowl of cereal.

When I decided to forego milk as a child, good old cow’s milk was really the only option. But that was then, and this is now. Consumers have more choices than ever about which type of milk to drink. The list now includes cow, goat, soy, almond, rice, hemp and even camel.

I have tried soy milk, but so far, that’s my only foray into the non-bovine milk world. Each alternative has pros and cons. My younger brother single-handedly drinks one gallon of 2% cow’s milk a week. He’s 20; he can handle all the calories (1,920) and fat (72 grams) included with that. I had a roommate who swore by soy milk until her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. (She had heard that the high levels of estrogen in soy can increase the risk of breast cancer. Recent studies, however, suggest that soy can actually prevent breast cancer.)

The LA Times recently investigated the different choices of milk out there. The story included a nifty graphic to help you compare the milk choices side by side. I’m especially intrigued by the concept of almond and hemp milks.

According to the article, almond milk has no cholesterol, saturated fats or lactose. It has less calories and total fat than health food favorite soy milk. But, it has significantly less protein than cow, goat and soy milk: a mere 1 gram compared to 7-8.7 grams. The calcium in almond milk depends on the brand. Some provide 20% of your daily value (10% less than cow, goat and soy), but others provide no calcium at all. Looks like the benefit of almond milk is the lack of fat and cholesterol:

"With almond milk, it's more about what you don't get" than what you do, says Sam Cunningham, an independent food scientist and consultant specializing in nuts, who helped develop almond milk for Sacramento-based Blue Diamond Growers as an employee of the almond processor in the 1990s.

Hemp milk contains just as many calories as soy milk but has 50 percent more fat. Don’t toss it aside yet, though. The fats in hemp milk are mostly omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, which promote nervous system function and healthy skin and hair. And, because most hemp milks are fortified, they can provide more calcium than traditional cow’s milk.

I don’t think I’ll become a milk drinker, even almond or hemp, but I might pick up some almond milk at the store, just to try it out.

-- Written by Smithsonian intern Abby Callard

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