Milk vs. Milk Substitutes: What's in the milk you're drinking?


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Do milk substitutes provide the same 9 essential nutrients as cow's milk? Help your students or clients understand how five different beverages compare nutritionally to fat-free milk. With so many beverages on the market, consumers need tools to use when making choices. The common tool used with Milk vs. Milk Substitute is the Nutrition Facts Label. Users will follow six easy steps in this 4 page resource to guide them through the labels of six beverages, including lactose-free milk, soy, almond, rice and coconut beverages

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  • For presentation purposes the “script” for this presentation will be in regular font. The “notes” for the presenter will be in italics.
    First read the information on the slides to your audience and then supplement your presentation with the script notes provided. Notes for the presenter are not meant to be shared with the audience but are intended to assist you with your presentation.

    There are many non-dairy beverages on the market today touted as “milk” replacements or substitutes. The Milk vs. “Milk” Substitutes brochure was developed to assist you in accurately comparing these beverages to dairy or cow’s milk. Learn the facts about milk and “milk” substitutes to make the best choice for you.
    It will be helpful to have actual containers or printed nutritional information from the brand’s websites for comparison purposes.
    Educating consumers about the nutrient content of these beverages is key in helping them make wise choices.
  • There are many things to consider when comparing the nutritional quality of these beverages. You will find that there are nutrition standards for milk, whereas no standards for “milk” substitutes are in place. The Standard of Identify for milk states that it comes from cows.
    The nutritional values of the substitutes will vary depending on the brand and specific type of beverage. They are often referred to as milk but they do not meet the definition for the Standard of Identity for milk. They are typically labeled as “drink” or “beverage”. For example: Rice Drink

    Going forward in this presentation, milk will be considered dairy milk from cows and “milk” substitute will be considered an alternative beverage from plant sources.
    For the complete Standard of Identity for milk, Google “Standards of Identity for milk”.
  • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans set in 2010 by the USDA (United States Dept. of Agriculture) and the USDHHS (United States Dept. of Health and Human Services) recommend adults and children ages 9 and older include three servings of dairy foods in their daily eating plan. Here are examples of dairy foods and the average serving size:
    1 serving of dairy food is equivalent to:
    1 cup milk, yogurt or soy beverage
    1.5 ounce natural cheese
    For more information go to

    This site will give you Food Group serving recommendations based on age and gender. This website also provides many excellent resources and printable materials to share with your audience.
  • Milk is a natural food that provides an irreplaceable package of nine essential nutrients: calcium, potassium, phosphorous, protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12, riboflavin and niacin.

    An essential nutrient is a nutrient that the body cannot make on its own, or cannot make an adequate amount, and must be provided by the diet. These nutrients are necessary for the body to function properly.
    Few foods deliver milk’s powerhouse of nutrients in such an affordable, appealing and readily available way. This is why the Dietary Guidelines recommend three servings per day from the dairy food group. Whether it is fat-free, low-fat, lactose-free or flavored, all Milk will contain these nutrients. There is no standard for the non-dairy “milk” substitutes.
  • There are many “milk” substitutes on the market today. We will be looking at some of them and comparing their nutrient content to that of milk.

    These beverages are fortified to add nutrients not naturally found in them. For example, calcium is added to a “milk” substitute product so they can contain as much or even more calcium than in milk.
    Let’s now look at a few of these products and see how they stack up.
  • When comparing beverages there are several things to consider:

    Cost: On average, a half gallon of milk will cost less than a half gallon of “milk” substitute. Check prices to get the best deal. Often, in-store brands of milk will be less expensive and larger quantity containers will result in a lower price per serving.
    Taste: The taste and texture of milk vs. “milk” substitutes will vary greatly. Some of the alternatives will taste sweeter because of added ingredients like sugar and flavorings. Soy beverages may have a slight “beanie” flavor, almond beverage will taste nutty and the rice drinks will be the sweetest tasting. Thickening agents like carrageenan or guar gum are added to many of the “milk” substitute beverages to improve the mouth feel and texture. Taste is a personal preference.
    Availability: It is important that the product is readily available to you. Can you find your beverage at the store you usually shop at for groceries or do you need to make a special stop to find your beverage? Consider your convenience.
    Nutrition: The nutrient content of the beverage is important. Does the beverage provide the nutrients you need each day? Remember that milk provides nine essential nutrients that your body needs. Read the Nutrition Facts food label on the beverage container.
  • We will be comparing different beverages using some of the information from the Nutrition Facts label. This label gives you valuable information about the product you are consuming.

    All packaged foods must contain this label. Not all of the nutrients found in the beverages will be listed on the food label. We will be comparing the major nutrients found in milk and “milk” substitutes.

    The serving size will be based on 1 cup or 8 ounces of the beverage. The Percent Daily Value percentage is based on a 2000 calorie diet.

    Milk has nutrition standards for the amount of vitamin D and vitamin A that can be added to the beverage. It also has fat amount standards for the different levels of milk fat found in whole, 2%, 1% and fat-free* milk.

    Remember that there are no nutrition standards for “milk” substitute products.

    *Note: Fat-free, nonfat and skim milk are different names for the same product.
  • We will be using the information on Pages 2 and 3 of the brochure to compare different milk and “milk” substitutes. When it comes to nutrition not all of the products are equal. We will be looking at six different components of these beverages:
    Total Fat
    Total Carbohydrate
    Ingredients (the fewer the ingredients listed means fewer additives and possibly less processing of the product)
  • These 6 products will be compared: fat-free milk, lactose free fat-free milk, soy beverage, almond beverage, coconut beverage and rice beverage.
    The source of nutrition information comes from the beverage cartons of the following beverages as recorded on October 1, 2013:
    Fat-Free Milk- Darigold, half gallon carton
    Lactose Free Fat-Free Milk- Lucerne, half gallon carton
    Silk Soymilk, Original, half gallon carton
    Almond Breeze, Almondmilk, Original, half gallon carton
    So Delicious Coconut Milk beverage, Original, half gallon carton
    Rice Dream Rice Drink, Original, unsweetened, enriched, half gallon carton
    Having sample cartons of these beverages or similar available products for the audience to look at and possibly taste test would be beneficial.
  • Fat provides nine calories per gram so a little bit of fat goes a long way. Choose low-fat or fat-free milk and “milk” substitutes most often. Fat adds flavor and thickness to beverages so fat free options may seem more watery and less flavorful. Some brands will add thickeners and flavoring to their fat free products.

    Remember that fat-free milk choices will still contain the same amount of nutrients as a higher fat version.
  • Looking at the back page of the brochure, answer Step #2 - list the milk(s) with the least amount of Total Fat.

    Audience participation encouraged.
  • Let’s look at the total fat content of each of these beverages.
    The fat content can vary greatly from product to product. The fat-free milk and lactose-free fat free milk have the least amount of fat.

    Most products do have fat-free versions but they are sometimes difficult to find.

    Be sure and read the food labels carefully. For example: although the coconut beverage has only 70 calories, it has 4.5 grams of fat which means over half of the calories in the product come from fat.
  • Carbohydrates are the main energy source for our body. Our brain and central nervous system rely on carbohydrates for fuel.

    The total carbohydrates on the food label includes the complex carbohydrates found in plant foods along with sugars – both naturally occurring and added sugars. For example, lactose is the carbohydrate found in milk and it is a naturally occurring sugar. Soy beans used in soy beverages contain several naturally occurring sugars including sucrose and raffinose.
  • Flavored milks and “milk” substitutes have added sugar or sugar substitutes and will provide additional calories. You must balance the nutritional quality of the beverage with the added sugar calories that provide additional flavor and sweetness. Chocolate milk usually contains about 8-14 additional grams of carbohydrates - about 30-50 extra calories per cup when compared to unflavored milk.
  • Looking at the back page of the brochure, answer Step #3 - find and circle all the added sugars listed on the ingredients list of each milk.

    Audience participation encouraged.
  • The added sugars will be listed in the ingredients list. One is already circled as an example. How many can you find? Ingredients are listed in predominance by weight therefore the first 3 or 4 ingredients are of the most importance.
    If you have sample product packages, pass the sample packages you have brought and help point out the added sugars on the food labels.
  • Now look at the Total Carbohydrate amount for each beverage. The Total Carbohydrate amount includes complex carbohydrates, fiber and sugars - both naturally occurring and added.
  • Protein is an essential nutrient needed to build and maintain muscle, keep blood and the structural parts of your body healthy and strong. Although protein supplies energy, it is not the best source. Protein is used for energy if you don’t have adequate carbohydrates and fat in your diet. It is easy to get enough protein in your diet if you eat healthy foods based on the Dietary Guidelines which include three servings a day from the dairy food group.
    Proteins are made up of 20 amino acids needed by our body. A complete protein contains all of the amino acids. Complete proteins are found in dairy foods, meat, poultry, fish and eggs. Incomplete proteins are low in one or more of the essential amino acids and are typically found in plant foods.
  • Many of the “milk” substitutes on the market today contain less than 1 gram of protein per serving. Some of these are now adding protein to their products to boost their protein content. Read the ingredient list on the nutrition label for the protein source.

    Most soy beverages provide 8 grams of protein per servings and are listed as a Dairy Food Group choice.

    Read the products labels or go to for more information.
  • Looking at the back page of the brochure, answer Step #4 - what milk(s) provides the most protein.

    Audience participation encouraged.
  • Look at the beverage labels on pages 2 and 3 and identify which provide the most protein per 1 cup serving.

    You will see that almond, coconut and rice beverages all contain 1 gram or less of protein per serving.

    Milk and soy beverage contain 8 - 9 grams of protein. A healthy eating plan relies on the dairy food group to provide one third to one half of your daily protein needs.
  • Calcium is an essential nutrient found naturally in milk.

    Calcium is needed throughout our life to build and maintain bone mass and prevent osteoporosis, the bone-thinning disease that has reached epidemic levels in post-menopausal women.

    Calcium may also lower your risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
  • Food is always the best way to get the nutrients you need. The calcium found in dairy foods is readily absorbed due to the presence of other nutrients such as Vitamin D and lactose which enhance calcium absorption. There are different forms of Calcium supplements added to “milk” substitutes, i.e. Calcium Carbonate and Tri-Calcium Phosphate. The rate of absorption will vary depending on the type of calcium supplements used and other factors including the presence of other nutrients. (Tip: Be sure to shake the milk substitute beverage before drinking since some calcium supplements settle to the bottom of the beverage.)
    It is recommended that children over the age of 9 and adults get between 1000 -1300 mg of calcium daily. To find out your recommended daily amount of calcium go to
  • Looking at the back page of the brochure, answer Step #5 - identify two forms of added calcium found in the ingredients list.

    Audience participation encouraged.

  • Look at the ingredients list for the beverage labels on pages 2 and 3.

    The “milk” substitutes typically do not have calcium in their natural product so it must be added. There are several forms of added calcium including calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate. A sample is already circled.

    Can you find other sources of added calcium?
  • Now look at the calcium amounts on the beverage labels. Naturally occurring calcium found in milk tends to be more easily absorbed by our bodies due to the presence of lactose and other nutrients.
  • One of the most useful parts of the Nutrition Facts food label is the Ingredients list. Manufacturers must list everything put into the product and list them in predominance by weight. In most cases “less is more” when it comes to the ingredients list.

    Added ingredients will include:
    Stabilizers such as guar gum and carrageenan that add structure and shelf-life to the products
    Sugars and sugar substitutes that add sweetness
    Flavorings that add flavor and appeal
    Nutrients such as vitamins and minerals
  • Some of the added ingredients can add calories by adding sugars, protein or fats to the product. Reading the ingredient list will help you determine what you are really eating.
  • Looking at the back page of the brochure, answer Step #6 - which milk(s) has the highest number of ingredients?

    Audience participation encouraged.
  • From the ingredients listed on the beverage labels on pages 2 and 3 of the brochure, here are the results:
    Fat Free Milk: 3 ingredients
    Lactose Free Milk: 4 ingredients
    Soy Beverage: 12 ingredients
    Almond Beverage: 11 ingredients
    Coconut Beverage: 13 ingredients
    Rice Beverage: 10 ingredients

    This is a good time to once again look at the food packages you have brought and compare the ingredient lists with the audience.
  • Are you considering a “milk” substitute because you have a milk allergy or intolerance? It is important to get the facts about these two conditions before you choose your beverage.
  • Lactose intolerance is a result of low levels of the lactase enzyme in the body, which makes it hard to digest lactose - the carbohydrate found in milk. This does not mean you cannot consume dairy products. Most people with lactose intolerance can eat cheese, yogurt and drink low-lactose milk.
  • Milk allergy is an immune system reaction to the protein in milk. It is most often seen in young children.
    Self - diagnosis can result in eliminating a food or food group when it might not be necessary. It is important to see your physician and /or registered dietitian if you feel you might have lactose intolerance or milk allergy.
    The Washington State Dairy Council has many resources on this topic. Go to to find more information.
  • Gather the facts before you make your milk choice. This brochure was designed to give you the information you need to make your best choice. The back side of the brochure gives you the 6 steps you need to take to make that choice.
  • Milk vs. Milk Substitutes: What's in the milk you're drinking?

    1. 1. What’s in the milk I’m drinking? Milk refers to cow’s milk or dairy milk A “milk” substitute refers to white beverages that look like milk but are made from plant-based sources such as soy, rice, almond and coconut. 2
    2. 2. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend adults and children over 9 years… • Include three servings of Dairy foods in their daily eating plan. For more information on healthy eating plans go to : • Picture of Choosemyplate 3
    3. 3. Milk is naturally nutrient rich, providing a package of nine essential nutrients… 4
    4. 4. There are many non-dairy “milk” substitutes on the market today. Most plant-based “milk” substitutes are fortified to try to match milk’s unique nutrition package. Let’s take a look at how these beverages stack up… 5
    5. 5. When comparing beverages consider…. Cost: Which is the best deal? Taste: Will you drink it? Availability: Can you find it at your store? Nutrition: What’s on the label? 6
    6. 6. Nutrition Facts food label Not all nutrients found in milk and “milk” substitutes are listed on the Nutrition Facts label. Serving size for milk and “milk” substitutes is 1 cup or 8 fluid ounces. The Percent Daily Values (%Daily Value) are based on a 2000 calorie diet. Dairy milk products have nutrition standards - “milk” substitutes do not. Nutrient amounts may vary based on the brand of the “milk” substitute. 7
    7. 7. When it comes to nutrition, not all milks are created equal….read the label and compare. Check Calories per 1 cup serving. Total Fat can vary within each category. Total Carbohydrate includes natural and added sugars. Milk is a great Protein source – 8 grams or more. Naturally occurring Calcium is easily absorbed by our bodies. Less is more when it comes to the Ingredients list- start counting. 8
    8. 8. 9
    9. 9. Calories The calories will vary depending on the amount of protein, fat and carbohydrate the beverage contains. Protein provides 4 calories per gram. Fat provides 9 calories per gram. Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram. Added carbohydrates such as sugars and fillers can add calories to the beverage. To find your calorie needs go to 10
    10. 10. Calories To reduce calories switch from a whole or full-fat beverage to a lower fat option such as 1%, fat-free or nonfat. The amount of the nine essential nutrients found in milk will stay the same regardless of the fat content. Double check the serving size – a standard serving for milk is 1 cup or 8 ounces. 11
    11. 11. 1 Which milk has the most Calories?
    12. 12. 13
    13. 13. Total Fat Fats are an essential part of a healthy eating plan. The type and amount of fat you consume is important to your overall health. The food label must provide information on the amount of total fat, saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol the product contains. High intakes of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol may increase the risk of heart disease. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats generally do not increase risk of heart disease. Choose foods with these fats more often. 14
    14. 14. Total Fat Remember: fat provides 9 calories per gram. Read the Nutrition Facts food label to find out how many grams of fat are in your beverage choice. Choose low-fat or fat-free milk and “milk” substitute beverages most often. 15
    15. 15. 2 List the milk(s) with the least amount of Total Fat.
    16. 16. 17
    17. 17. Total Carbohydrate Total carbohydrates include complex carbohydrates (found in plant foods), dietary fiber and sugars-both added and naturally occurring sugars. Added sugars increase the calorie content of the beverage. Read the ingredient list to find added sugars and sugar substitutes. Look for words that end in “ose” or contain the words cane, corn or syrup. 18
    18. 18. Total Carbohydrate The carbohydrate in milk is lactose - a natural sugar found in dairy foods. Flavored milk and “milk” substitutes provide additional calories from added sugars. For example: chocolate milk is a healthy choice with 9 essential nutrients and about 30 extra calories from added sugar. 19
    19. 19. 3 Find and circle all the added sugars listed on the Ingredients List of each milk.
    20. 20. 21
    21. 21. 22
    22. 22. Protein Protein builds and maintains muscle, keeps our blood healthy and our body structure strong. The dairy food group provides 6–9 grams of protein per serving. Dairy milk protein is a high quality complete protein meaning it provides all of the essential building blocks needed for good health. Plant based proteins are not complete proteins. 23
    23. 23. Protein Many “milk” substitutes provide 1 gram or less of protein per serving. Soy beverage provides 8 grams of protein per serving and is listed as a dairy food group choice. Read the Nutrition Facts label to see how many grams of protein your beverage contains. 24
    24. 24. 4 What milk(s) provides the most Protein.
    25. 25. 26
    26. 26. Calcium Calcium is an essential nutrient found naturally in milk and other dairy products. Calcium is needed to build and maintain bone mass and strength, help with blood clotting and keep a normal heartbeat. Everybody needs calcium- from infants to adults! Dairy milk provides a highly absorbable source of calcium. 27
    27. 27. Calcium Calcium supplements are added to “milk” substitutes. Some calcium supplements are not as readily absorbed as naturally occurring calcium. Know how much calcium you need each day for good health. For more information go to 28
    28. 28. 5 Identify two forms of added Calcium found in the Ingredients list.
    29. 29. 30
    30. 30. 31
    31. 31. Ingredients Less is more when it comes to the ingredient list. Product ingredients are listed in descending order of prominence and weight. Look for added ingredients such as: Stabilizers Ex: Carrageenan, guar gum Sugars Ex: Evaporated cane juice, cane sugar Flavoring Ex: Natural Flavor, vanilla extract Nutrients Ex: Calcium carbonate, vitamin B12 32
    32. 32. Ingredients Added ingredients can add calories to the beverage. Milk is naturally good without added sugars, stabilizers or flavorings and provides nine essential nutrients needed for good health. Look at the ingredient list on your beverage carton. How many items are listed? 33
    33. 33. 6 Which milk(s) has the highest number of Ingredients?
    34. 34. 35
    35. 35. Lactose Intolerance vs. Milk Allergy Get the facts before you choose your beverage. Lactose intolerance and milk allergy are not the same thing.
    36. 36. Lactose Intolerance Being lactose intolerant means you cannot digest lactose. Symptoms will vary depending on how much lactase your body makes. Symptoms will include bloating, stomach pain and gas. Most often starts during teen or adult years. Many can tolerate small amounts of dairy foods low in lactose such as hard cheeses. Lactose free milk and soy beverage may be good alternatives. 37
    37. 37. Milk Allergy Milk allergy is an abnormal response by the body’s immune system to the protein in milk products. Symptoms include wheezing, vomiting, hives and digestive problems which can be mild or very severe. Usually seen in young children and often outgrown by age 3. Must avoid all milk and products made with milk. See physician for correct diagnosis. 38
    38. 38. Check the Labels…. Get the Facts…. Drink Your Milk! Read the Nutrition Facts food label to compare the nutrient content of different beverages. 39
    39. 39. What have I learned? I will choose a beverage that is high in nutrients. I will choose a beverage that I can afford and is readily available to me. I will choose a beverage that tastes good. I will consume three servings every day from the dairy food group. 40
    40. 40. Your milk choice matters... Think Nutritious and Delicious when choosing your best option. 41
    41. 41. My milk choice is…….