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Are Plant-Based Milk Alternatives All They’re Cracked Up to Be?

In nearly every coffee shop, you’ll now find at least one cow’s milk alternative—usually soy milk, sometimes another plant-based milk. This reflects a broader health food trend—the move away from dairy for a variety of reasons. But are these alternatives any more nutritious than what they’re replacing? According to an article in the New York Times: not necessarily. Cow’s milk generally contains far more protein and calcium than almond or cashew milk, and is usually fortified with vitamins A and D. As for soy milk, while it does contain high amounts of protein, it doesn’t contain any calcium. And while many soy milks are fortified with calcium, as well as other nutrients, there’s debate over whether added nutrients are absorbed as well as nutrients naturally present in cow’s milk. For example, one study found that children drinking plant-based milks had lower blood levels of vitamin D than those drinking cow’s milk. Another study in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition recommended that young children drink cow’s milk unless they have a medical reason to avoid it.

But not all research suggests that cow’s milk is a healthier option. Some studies have shown that cow’s milk doesn’t reduce the risk of bone fractures, and that too much of it might even increase the risk of fractures in certain populations. Another study found that excessive milk consumption might put children at risk for an iron deficiency, while other research found that too much non-fermented dairy increased the risk of all-cause mortality.

So, which milk should go in your grocery cart? Either choice can be healthy: if you choose cow’s milk, you may do best using limited amounts, and if you choose soy or other plant-based milks, look for ones that are low in sugar and free of additives such as carrageenan, which may irritate the gut and interfere with digestion. In either case, be sure to get the protein you need from sources like fish, lean poultry, and beans and lentils, and calcium from fermented dairy products and plant sources like soy and other beans, nuts and seeds, and leafy greens.

Source: New York Times

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