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Soy, Almond or Rice Milk--Which is The Best Alternative Milk for You?

Your choice of milk doesn't always have to come from a cow.
Your choice of milk doesn't always have to come from a cow.

Whether you're allergic to milk, lactose intolerant or simply not crazy about the taste of cow's milk, one thing's for sure: there are now a lot of other options for you.

Dairy alternatives represent a growing market, as anyone who examines the shelves of soy, rice and almond milks -- in vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and plain, non-fat, powdered, liquid and more -- will tell you.

Choosing the right variety for you, however, can be a challenge, particularly if you're new to the pseudo-milk market.

Soy Milk

One serving of soymilk gives you 110 calories. It contains 10 gm of proteins, 4 gm of fat, 14 gm of carbohydrates. Calcium, iron, sodium and riboflavin are also present. There is concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. The fat content is highly unsaturated. Soy milk is free of cholesterol. You get 80 mg of calcium from one serving of soy milk not making it a rich source of calcium. So, it is often fortified with extra calcium

If you want to know whether or not soymilk is good for you, it really depends on who you ask. The Food and Drug Administration has been touting the benefits of soy for a healthy heart. In 1999 they approved the health claim:

"Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 25 grams of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease."

The claim was approved after the FDA determined that "four daily soy servings can reduce levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), the so-called "bad cholesterol" that builds up in blood vessels, by as much as 10 percent."

The American Heart Association agrees, and recommends that soy products (like soy milk) be used in a diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, and lean meats.
That said, Kaayla Daniel, PhD, author of "The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America's Favorite Health Food," believes soy estrogens can wreak havoc on hormones and more. Daniel had different opinions on the value of soymilk;

"Check the ingredient list on your soy milk and you'll almost certainly find a lot of sugar. It might be named cane sugar, barley malt, rice sugar, fructose or corn syrup. Whatever, it's still sugar. The most likely reason that you feel better after drinking your soymilk is that you are getting a sugar hit.
The second possibility is that the soy estrogens are stimulating your thyroid. For some people this results in a mildly hyperactive thyroid with short-term energy gain. The down side is that over the long run your thyroid may go down, sinking into hypothyroidism. That means loss of energy, cognitive decline, brain fog. In my opinion the long-term risks of soy do not justify any short-term benefit."

The taste of soymilk is also often under debate.

Ben Wasserstein, an associate editor at New York magazine, conducted a taste test on milk alternatives. Of the three soymilks tested, the highest average score was 3.6 (on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best). Tasters compared the drinks to "chalk," "a root," and "vegetabley."

If you do opt for soymilk, most consumers recommend that you try a number of different brands before deciding on one you like (or dislike). Every brand tastes different, as well as flavors and varieties within brands

Almond Milk

Almonds are one of the healthiest nuts you can eat. They're rich in magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper, the antioxidants vitamin E and selenium, and calcium. Almond milk contains 30% of your daily calcium needs! This may be one of the more nutritious milk alternatives on the market.

However, almonds are costly so the actual amount of almonds used in the almond milk is small; it may not be enough to give you lots of nutrition. You also need to watch out for additives and sweeteners in the milk. As for taste, consumers generally find the taste of almond milk pleasing. It has a light, nutty flavor.

One serving of unsweetened almond milk (1 cup or 8 fluid ounces) gives you around 90 calories. It contains around 3 grams of fat, 1 gm of fiber and 1 gram of protein. It is free of cholesterol and saturated fat. It is rich in vitamins and minerals and omega fatty acids.

Rice Milk

Rice milk is made from boiled rice, brown rice syrup and brown rice starch. Manufacturers often add thickening agents to commercial rice milk. Rice milk may be sweetened with sugar and some manufacturers use vanilla to make rice milk taste more like cow's milk. Rice milk generally tastes sweeter than cow's milk.

Rice milk is popular with vegetarians and vegans because it contains no animal products or by-products. Rice milk contains more carbohydrates than cow's milk. However, unlike cow's milk, rice milk doesn't contain lactose or cholesterol. This makes it healthy for your heart as well as safe for those who are lactose intolerant.

Rice milk doesn't contain as much calcium or protein as cow's milk. Since rice milk doesn't contain a lot of protein, those who use rice milk as a milk substitute must plan to include more protein in their diet through other means. Most commercial brands of rice milk, however, are fortified with calcium. This is why a serving of fortified rice milk provides the same amount of calcium as a serving of cow's milk. Rice milk is also often fortified with niacin, vitamin B12, vitamin A, vitamin D and iron.

One cup of rice milk contains about 140 calories, compared to 185 calories in a cup of whole cow's milk, and 97 calories in a cup of skimmed cow's milk. Rice milk contains about three grams of fat per cup, while whole cow's milk contains about 11 grams per cup. However, rice milk still contains more fat than skimmed cow's milk, which contains less than half a gram of fat per one cup serving.


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