Dairy Nutrition | Got Choices? Get Facts!

Did you hear the news in dairy nutrition? Starbucks recently added coconut “milk” to their menu for customers who are seeking a non-dairy option and an alternative to soy beverage. Soy was originally offered as a substitute for those with dairy allergies or leanings toward vegan lifestyles. But now soy needs an alternative?

Does the multitude of choices empower you or complicate your decisions around what to eat and drink? Are you confused about what to order when out and what to buy for home? If so, you’re not alone. When surveyed, more than half of Americans think it’s easier to do their own taxes than to figure out what to eat to improve their health. Research from Cornell University shows we make more than 200 food-related decisions per day. In today’s food environment, where choices are framed as sociopolitical debates, you might find your appetite being dampened in a flood of opinion and emotion, wondering what to eat and where to start. That’s where registered dietitians can help!

March is National Nutrition Month and registered dietitians across the country are encouraging their fellow Americans to make informed food choices as they bite into a healthy lifestyle. With all of the information (some true, some not) and choices surrounding what we eat, it’s important to have the facts about a product before purchasing it.

Consider almond beverage. Nutritionally speaking, whole almonds are awesome. A single 1-ounce serving contain a respectable 6 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and 12 grams of healthy fats. Yet a 1-cup serving of almond beverage contains only 1 to 1.5 grams of protein, no fiber, requires supplemental vitamins, minerals and a long list of additives to make it ‘milk-like.’ All for about double what you’d pay for real dairy milk—the original farm-to-table food.

As for coconut beverage, it has even less protein than almond beverage. Like other non-dairy alternatives—including soy, almond, rice and oat drinks—you really have to watch for added sugars. Sweetened versions can run upwards of 6 teaspoons of added processed sugars compared to less than 3 teaspoons of the naturally-occurring sugar found in real milk.

Before you choose your beverage, get the facts. Real dairy milk contains nine essential nutrients, including high quality protein, for just 25 cents a glass. For an easy-to-understand guide on how non-dairy alternatives stack up against the real thing in terms of price and nutrition, click here.

Mickela MitchellMickela Mitchell, MS, RDN