almond milk

Growing numbers of hipster millennials are choosing plant-based milks such as almond milk over traditional dairy milk.

Before switching, however, it’s important to consider the nutritional value of plant-based milks, says University of Missouri Extension nutrition specialist Kelsey Jeter.

Almond milk brings several beneficial nutrients to the table, Jeter says. It contains no cholesterol or saturated fat. “It is high in vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids, and most almond milk brands are lower in carbohydrates and calories than cow’s milk. It is often fortified with calcium and vitamin D to match cow’s milk’s benefits.”

That’s the good news.

That bad news: Almond milk loses most of its protein in processing. Most almond milk brands provide only 1 gram of protein per serving, compared to 8 grams of protein for cow’s milk. Almond milk is mostly water.

Some versions also contain “empty calories” from added sugars, Jeter says. Almond milk comes in sweetened, unsweetened, dark chocolate and vanilla varieties.

“The important thing to remember is to check the nutrition facts label — look for milk or milk products that have adequate amounts of calcium, vitamin D and protein,” Jeter says. “Aim for products low in added sugars and saturated fats.”

The bottom line is simple. Choose your milk based upon your nutrient needs, she says.

For many years, people with casein allergies, lactose intolerance, diabetes or heart disease have used almond milk as an alternative to cow’s milk. Some prefer it because of its nutty flavor.

Industry experts say almond milk makes up two-thirds of the plant-based milk sold in the United States. Almond milk trumps soy milk and easily outsells rice and coconut milk.

The United States Department of Agriculture reports that Americans are drinking less milk, from 0.9 cups per day in 1970 to 0.6 cups per day in 2010. MU Extension recommends 3 cups per day for older children, teens and adults; 2 ½ cups for children 4 to 8; and 2 cups for children 2 to 3 years old.

Nutrient-rich cow’s milk contains calcium, potassium, vitamin D and protein to improve bone health and manage blood pressure.

For more food and nutrition information from MU Extension, including feature articles, answers to frequently asked questions and learning opportunities, go to www.missourifamilies.org/nutrition.