By Rima Kandalaft, MS, RD, CSP, clinical dietitian at CHOC
Milk is the white liquid that comes out of the udder of cows and other mammals, right? Well mooooove over cows, several plants are being “milked” too. Plant-based milk alternatives have been gaining in popularity recently. Consumers can choose from soy milk, almond milk, rice milk and many others.
A quick stop at the supermarket to grab some milk is not so quick anymore. You walk down the dairy section and you are confronted with endless choices: cow’s milk with three to four varieties of fat content, with or without lactose, plain or flavored. Not to be outdone, plant-based milk alternatives are also available in several flavors, and with varying fat contents.
Let’s take a look at the nutritional benefits of cow’s milk.
It is packed with good-for-you nutrients like protein, calcium and phosphorous. An 8-ounce cup of whole milk has about 150 calories, 8 grams of protein, 8 grams of fat, and 12 grams of carbohydrates (mostly the milk sugar known as lactose). Skim milk has all the goodness of whole milk, but no fat and only 90 calories. It is an option for those trying to cut back on calories and/or saturated fat and cholesterol.
People who are lactose intolerant don’t have enough lactase, an enzyme necessary for digesting the lactose in milk. Lactose-free milk is processed to break down lactose.
So what about the non-dairy milk beverages available?
Plant-based milk alternatives, such as soy, almond, cashew, rice and coconut milk, are good choices for vegans and vegetarians, or for those with allergy concerns. They are typically fortified with calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients. They are lower in calories than dairy milk, unless they are sweetened. With the exception of soy milk, they are quite low in protein.
You may have heard about a new product on the US market called A2 milk™. It’s produced and marketed by a company based in New Zealand, where A2 milk was introduced about 15 years ago.
Let’s look at basic dairy science. Milk proteins are 80 percent casein and 20 percent whey. Beta-casein is the second major casein protein. The two major genetic variants are A1 and A2 beta-casein. They differ by one amino acid at position 67 in the protein chain.
Regular cows’ milk contains both A1 and A2 beta-casein. The A2 milk™ brandcontains only A2 beta-casein. This is achieved through selective breeding of the dairy herd.
A few studies correlate A1 beta-casein with various adverse health effects, and suggest that for certain individuals, A2 beta-casein may be a better choice.
A pilot study published in 2014 in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the gastrointestinal effects of A1 versus A2 beta-casein, in 41 males and females. Consumption of A1 beta-casein milk was associated with looser stools than A2 milk™. Fecal calprotectin, a marker of gastrointestinal inflammation, correlated highly with subjective measures of digestive discomfort on the A1 diet but less on the A2 diet.
While the “A1 versus A2” debate continues, we will have to wait for more robust studies to validate the health claims.
In conclusion, the next time you go shopping for milk, arm yourself with a few milk facts to help you pick the right milk for you and your family-one that meets your nutritional needs and taste preference.