Got (non-Dairy) Milk? (#1)

I love the entire dairy section of the supermarket.

Sometimes, I’d look down at my shopping basket and be acutely conscious about what other people might think of me and my diet. (Does that happen to y’all too or am I being too sensi haha)

There’s 2 bottles of low-fat milk (because its 2 for $5.35!) and a 500 mL tub of yoghurt, a triple-block set of butter and 2 cartons of soya bean milk (yep, another deal!) and a pack of shredded mozzarella. And then two random vegetables on the side with a hot bag of freshly roasted honey chicken.

*Sheepish smile*

Over the years, everyone has gotten more conscious of the things we eat. McDonald’s meals became a once-a-month kinda thing. If we’re feeling naughty, twice. That includes a growing aversion towards Cow’s milk. The reasons were aplenty: some figured that it affected their skin condition, some have learnt that their gut has changed (i luv gut microbio omg), while some refrain from dairy because it is unethical or simply better for the environment. Some just avoid it because there’s now a growing negative connotation to cow’s milk.

Personally, my reason for venturing into non-dairy milks began with experimentation: trying to figure out the cause of my cystic acne. In case you just joined me on this space, I have never had acne in my teens and it was super weird for it to pop up now. I have half a foot into my late twenties and full-blown acne happens. Talk about quarter-life crisis.

Not wanting to leave any stone unturned as to the cause of my breakouts, I wondered if easing up on dairy products would bring about an improvement (it did, but a little bit). But nonetheless, I have been curious about the latest trend of vegan milk options. While dairy doesn’t seem to be the main cause of my skin problems, they are for other people out there. Not just acne, but triggering irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and in some severe cases, allergies.

The biggest questions I had were…

How do they taste like?

How do you make the change?

Nutritionally, how different are these options from cow’s milk?

Curious?

Me too.

Let’s dive in.

‘Cow’ different is cow’s milk from non-dairy options?

*smiles*

First off, one can’t deny that Cow’s milk (or goat’s milk, etc) is a great source of nutrients. Its packed with calcium, protein, vitamins, fats and carbohydrates, everything our body needs, all found in one source. Thus, perfect for malnutrition, which was rampant back in the 1950s here in Singapore. So much so that the government introduced the School Milk Scheme that gave out free milk to kids.

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Photo credit: Magnolia

With the huge array of milks now available to parents, it is still highly recommended that children be given cow’s milk up to a certain age, in order to meet their growing needs.

The main need being calcium: needed for bone health, muscle tone and our nervous system. It works together with vitamin D, where it helps in the absorption of calcium. Which is why it’s always good to get some sunlight every once in a while. Now before I veer off into the deep end of my final year research topic in Polytechnic, let’s come back to cow’s milk.

In a review done by Singhal et al (2017) where they compared the nutritional values of cow’s milk to other non-dairy ones in the US, they looked at protein quality and something called bioavailability. Not a lot of studies have been done on the nutritional value of non-dairy milks, so data for micronutrients are patchy. Only cow’s, soya and oat milk have more extensive data (in that order).

bioavail

Going back to bioavailability, it is a measure of how easily available said nutrient is. How easily is it absorbed into the body? Perhaps protein A needs an additional step of processing before being used, while protein B doesn’t. That extra step of processing means using more energy and thus, is less efficient.

Calcium

Based on these protein quality assessments, cow’s milk still fared better than the other options. The review found that most non-dairy products available in US supermarkets are fortified, meaning that nutrients are added during processing to boost its nutritional value. One such nutrient is calcium. However, bioavailability of these added nutrients and the natural ones already present in the milk vary. So depending on the quality of the nutrients and conditions of the processing, the final nutritional value may be affected. This is in contrast to cow’s milk, which has highly bioavailable calcium.

Protein

For those of us who hateeeee protein shakes.

The same review also looked at protein quantity and it was no surprise when Cow’s milk comes in first, followed by soya bean milk. If we just look at the protein content of some plant-based milks found in supermarkets here:

MilkProtein (g) per 240 mL (1 serving)Calcium (mg) per 240 mL (1 serving)
Magnolia’s Fresh Milk9.6288
NutriSoy (Original High Calcium – Reduced Sugar Fresh Soya Milk)9.6480
Oatly (Oat Drink: Barista Edition)2.4288
UFC Velvet Almond Milk (Original)2.8
Nutritional values of these products can be found on the brands’ websites!

Just based on these two nutrients, it is clear that switching to full non-dairy milk would mean losing out on some important nutrients and vitamins. While non-dairy milks can be fortified, whether or not these added nutrients are easily absorbed and used by the body is another thing for food scientists to look at!

DID YOU KNOW? Food scientists do more than just create flavours and help keep food safe for longer. They use science and technology to improve the nutritional value of the food we eat too! Be it through research on the effects or absorption of nutrients in our bodies, or how temperatures or treatments during manufacturing affect the nutritional value of foodstuff.

So, bottom line is, you can make the switch! However, just purely based on the nutritional information label, it seems that getting fortified non-dairy milks are better at meeting your daily nutritional needs than homemade options. So if you’re thinking of switching to full soya, maybe the freshly cooked ones from the market shouldn’t be your only source of calcium, protein and vitamin D!

‘Coz they ain’t fortified.

But they sure as hell taste good with a bit of sugar syrup hehe.

A little food for thought when if you are considering removing or reducing the amount of dairy in your diet!

While there are now tons of milk options out there, I’ll only talk about the ones that I have tried. This is probably a long-running series, so buckle up guys. Next, we take a deep dive into our favourite local plant-based milk: soya milk.

Till the next one,

Mind your bones ❤

References:

Singhal, Sarita∗,†; Baker, Robert D.∗; Baker, Susan S.∗ A Comparison of the Nutritional Value of Cow’s Milk and Nondairy Beverages, Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition: May 2017 – Volume 64 – Issue 5 – p 799-805
doi: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000001380

Psssst. While researching and typing out this series, it played out like a podcast in my head. Do y’all prefer reading or listening to podcasts?

Posted by

Biological Science graduate. Full-time working adult. Loves planning stuff. And lists. Appreciates all things artsy-fartsy. Sings in the choir, but can't do solos.

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