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‘Got Milk’-Dairy or Non-dairy?

Shannon Parks, Dietetic Intern Bay Pines VA Healthcare System

June is Dairy Month and a good time to celebrate the many benefits of dairy products, particularly milk. There is a controversy brewing over what should be called milk. The dairy industry argues that plant-based product labels using milk terms violate the Food and Drug Administration’s standard of identity regulations. On the other side of the argument is the Good Food Institute that petitioned the FDA in March 2017 for a regulation to allow the use of compound names on plant-based dairy labels, such as soy milk. The labeling controversy continues.

In the meantime, consumers are faced with a variety of “milks” produced from nuts, seeds, plants, and animals. With so many types of milk on the market it can be confusing for consumers to know what to choose. Allergies, food intolerances, and nutrition play a large role in deciding which one makes it home from the market. A lactose intolerant individual may choose non-dairy milks like almond, pea, or hemp milk. A consumer with a soy allergy may steer clear of soy milk and opt for dairy or one of the nut milks like almond or cashew. Someone who’s a fan of dairy milk may choose the lower calorie fat-free or skim option or the more robust whole milk. As consumers of milk, our options are seemingly endless.

Nutrition impact can further predict consumers choose. The amount of calories, fat, carbohydrate, and protein, as well as calcium, a vital mineral for strong teeth and bones can vary widely. The range of calories might surprise you. Nut milks offer 25-60 calories per 8 ounces while goat’s milk and cow’s whole milk yield 140 to 150 calories for the same volume. The milk from cows and goats as well as the plant based pea milk offer the most protein at 8 grams per 8 ounces, while nut and rice milks offer the least amount of protein at 0-2 grams per 8 ounces. Then there’s calcium. Most dairy and non-dairy milks to which calcium has been added have at about 300 milligrams or more per 8 ounce serving. Read the Nutrition Facts label to determine the best option for you and your family.
Has milk selection always been this complicated? Not quite. However, historically speaking, there have never been as many products available on the market as there are today. Whichever choice you make, know that all milks are not created equal. For more information to help you decide, University of Kentucky has a fact sheet called the Many Milks.