Senior Health

2/15/2022 | By Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD, LDN

Years ago, cow’s milk used to be the only beverage of its kind in supermarkets. Soy milk, though available for years, had a huge surge in popularity in the 1980s. These days, not only can you find a variety of plant-based milk alternatives, but also fermented and probiotic dairy drinks such as yogurt drinks and kefir.

The original

Traditional cow’s milk is a nutrient dense part of one’s diet due primarily to its protein and calcium content. But not everyone is able to include cow’s milk in their diet, therefore having so many alternatives is beneficial. However, not all milk alternatives are equal, and it’s important to be aware of what to look for.

One of the factors to look at is the added sugar. Limiting added sugar in one’s diet is recommended for various health reasons. Many believe cow’s milk, due to the sugar content, should be avoided; however, the sugar in milk is naturally a part of milk, not added, and therefore can easily be a part of a healthy diet. Some of the other milk and yogurt drinks, on the other hand, do have substantial amounts of added sugar, as much as two to four teaspoons per serving.

Helpful hints for choosing milk alternatives

Keep these things in mind when checking out milk alternatives.

Lactose intolerance: Difficulty digesting lactose – milk sugar – doesn’t mean you need to ban milk. Lactose-reduced milks, lactase supplements, and other dairy alternatives may make enjoying dairy possible.

Related: Can lactose-intolerance manifest itself as we age?

Yogurt: The benefits of fermented beverages such as yogurt and kefir drinks are the probiotics they provide, which can help promote a healthy digestive system. Consider including them as part of your dairy rotation.

Nutrients: Cow’s milk is an ideal combination of protein and calcium, and not all alternatives stack up the same way. If you’re choosing an alternative beverage, be sure to check the nutrition facts panel to find out which nutrients you might be missing out on so you can make them up with other food choices.

What’s in a name: Before deciding on a dairy replacement – such as almond, cashew, oat, soy milk, coconut, or other – as well as fermented beverages, check the label. Is it unsweetened? What other ingredients have been added, such as salt or cane sugar?

Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384.

© 2022 Belvoir Media Group. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD, LDN

Food and nutrition expert Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD, LDN is an award-winning, registered dietitian. She has written for and been quoted in hundreds of publications and media outlets, including Environmental Nutrition. She began her love of food and cooking as a girl. Her early food allergies gave her an understanding of how challenging eating can be for some. In deciding to become a registered dietitian, she combined these two parts of her life to help others eat healthfully and manage personal eating issues while enjoying the food they ate.