There are so many alternatives to dairy milk available at the supermarket these days. It can be quite confusing to figure out which to choose for your child (or yourself)! Milk, whether dairy or nondairy, is an important part of your child’s diet. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, (dairy) milk constitutes approximately one quarter of your child’s daily energy, as well as a significant source of many vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and D, calcium and zinc.
Therefore, when choosing an alternative to cow’s milk it’s important to choose one that can deliver the same nutrition that cow’s milk provides. The nutritional content of the various nondairy milks on the market varies widely and the only way to know what is in a given product is to look at the nutritional label.
One cup of 1% dairy milk (240 ml) provides 102 calories, 2.4 grams of fat, 8 grams of protein, and 30% of your daily needs for both calcium and vitamin D.
Virtually all of the nut milks (almond milk, cashew milk, etc.) fall short in terms of protein, providing only 1 gram per cup. One cup of soymilk, on the other hand, provides a similar amount of protein to cow’s milk, with 6 grams per cup. One cup of pea milk is another good alternative, providing 8 grams of protein and only 75 calories.
Make sure to check the calcium and vitamin D content on the nutrition label of your non-dairy milk. There are some brands that have up to 45% of the recommended daily intake for calcium and vitamin D, even more than what’s in cow’s milk. Other brands have none at all. When looking at the nutrition label make sure the non-dairy provides at least 30% of both calcium and vitamin D.
One final thing to watch out for is sugar content. The “regular,” "chocolate," or “vanilla” varieties of non-dairy milks have added sugar, as opposed to the natural sugar found in cow’s milk. These varieties often contain 2 or more teaspoons of added sugar per cup. A better choice would be the unsweetened version whenever possible.