nutrition

Cows’ Milk Alternatives – What you need to know about plant–based milk alternative options

glass of milk sitting outside with grass in backgroundPeople choosing plant-based drinks in place of cows’ milk has surged over the past eight to ten years. The popularity has fueled increases in sales and there are many options to choose from in grocery and health food stores. The biggest reason many people choose plant-based drinks is that they don’t tolerate dairy or want to avoid animal products. Many people think they are just healthier options than cows’ milk. But there is confusion about what nutritional benefits plant –based drinks really offer and the differences among these choices. Soymilk, almond milk, hemp milk – which of these are nutritionally the best?

First, let’s look at what cows’ milk offers nutritionally. It is naturally rich in protein, calcium, potassium and several B vitamins and is typically fortified with Vitamins A and D. Cows’ milk does provide a superior nutritional profile when it comes to protein and calcium, in particular, in comparison to most plant-based drinks. 

Let’s look at some plant–based alternatives to milk to compare:

Soymilks:

  • These milks have about the same amount of protein as cows’ milk and if fortified, have similar amounts of vitamins and minerals.
  • Soy does contain all the essential amino acids (these proteins cannot be made by the body), but it can be a common allergen – so people may be intolerant or sensitive.
  • They can have added sugar and higher sodium, so need to check labels. Go for the unflavored, organic soymilk for choices with the least additives.
  • Soymilk is the most nutritionally balanced of the plant-based milks and is closest to cows’ milk.
  • Soy is unique in that it contains a high concentration of isoflavones (a type of plant estrogen) that is similar in function to human estrogen, but with much weaker effects. There is not substantial evidence that soy definitively increases or decreases cancer risk.

Almond milk:

  • These milks have a lower protein content and poorer protein quality than cows’ milk or soymilk.
  • Some are higher in total fat, but it is primarily healthy fat.  
  • Many are fortified with calcium and Vitamins A and D. Check labels.
  • Almond milk is not recommended for those with nut allergy or sensitivities.

Cashew milk:

  • These milks have a lower protein content and poorer protein quality than cows’ milk or soymilk; is also low in other macronutrients.
  • A good alternative to almond milk if you don’t like the almond flavor and want lower calories.
  • Not recommended for those with nut allergies or sensitivities.

Hemp milk:

  • One of the few plant-based complete proteins containing all the essential amino acids.
  • Hemp milk is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids that are good for health.
  • Hemp milk is made from the hemp seeds from the hemp plant, cannabis sativa. It does not contain the psychoactive component of the Cannabis Sativa plant (used to make marijuana and CBD). 

Oat milk:

  • Oat milk has slightly more protein than many almond milks, but less than soy or cows’ milk.
  • It is higher in carbohydrates and calories and has a somewhat creamy taste.

Rice milk:

  • Calories come primarily from carbohydrates. 
  • Rice milk has a poor protein content and is low in nutrient content unless vitamins and calcium are added to it.
  • Rice milk is the least likely to trigger allergies.

Coconut milk:

  • Coconut milk has little or no protein.
  • These milks are high in saturated fat, which can raise the risk of heart disease.
  • All are fortified with Vitamin D, but few with calcium.
  • Many people with tree nut allergies are able to drink coconut milk – but it is important to test for coconut allergy specifically.

The Environmental Footprint:

Many people are choosing plant-based beverages to reduce the environmental impact. They can be healthier choices for the planet; however; drawing firm conclusions from studies can be challenging. A 2018 study from the University of Oxford, found that dairy milk uses nine times more land to make a liter of dairy milk than a liter of soy, oat, or almond milk. Greenhouse gas emissions from cows’ milk production were also much higher than plant-based alternatives.  

However; plant–based options can also have environmental impacts. Almond milk, for example requires large quantities of water for irrigation to produce. Additionally, these products are transported long distances to retail stores, such as almond products produced in California. Rice emits large amounts of greenhouse gases from the methane that bacteria create in flooded rice paddies. Soy and oat production can lead to high land use and perhaps deforestation. No matter what type of plant-based milk you buy, choose organic to reduce the environmental impact of pesticides. Shifting to plant-based choices is a generally good environmentally sustainable idea to wean away from dependence on meat and dairy.

Conclusion:

All milk and plant-based milk alternatives offer various health advantages.  A good strategy may be to mix up the types of milk you drink. That way, you can get the best of each of them.  Remember to check the labels for ingredients like added sugar or unwanted additives to avoid those with undesirable add-ins. And choose milks with better protein and nutrient profiles. Knowing the difference in these milks will allow an informed decision regarding your nutrition and health. 

Article by Sharon Gray, UConn Extension

Updated May 19, 2020

References:

Almond, oat and soymilk. Consumer Reports  www.cr.org November 2019 p.33-35.

Going nuts about milk?  S. Ferreira January 25,2019  https://nutrition.org/going-nuts-about-milk-heres-what- you-need-to-know-about-plant-based-milk-alternatives

Reducing Food’s Environmental Impacts Through Producers and Consumers, J. Poore & T. Nemecek Science 01, Jun 2018: Vol 360, Issue 6392, DOI: 10.1126/Science.aaq0216

Healthy Family Connecticut

family in front of a houseInterested in more nutrition information for you and your family? The Healthy Family Connecticut
website from the UConn Department of Allied Health Sciences offers many science-based and
nutrition resources for you and your family to stay healthy that are offered in both English and
Spanish. Resources are offered for Parents of Toddlers, Preschool Aged Children, Middle-
School Aged Children, and more!
There are flyers, videos, and even a fun game available for the whole family to enjoy. Some of
the information provided includes:
● Eat the Rainbow
● Sugar Sweetened Beverages and You
● Snack Recipes
● Sippy Cup Use
● Physical Activity
● Reducing Screen Time
● Sleep
● Making Less Waste
The website and resources are made possible through three grants, the Child Health and
Development Institute of Connecticut, Hatch Funding from the Storrs Agricultural Experiment
Station in the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, and the SNAP-Ed
Program. The SNAP-Ed Program based in the UConn Department of Allied Health Sciences
reaches thousands of participants through educational nutrition sessions for people of all
different ages. These educational sessions focused on increasing consumption of fruits and
vegetables, low-fat dairy, and whole grains, while decreasing consumption of sugar sweetened
beverages. Other program goals are increasing physical activity, offering cooking
demonstrations, and more. More information on our program can be found on the website:
https://healthyfamilyct.cahnr.uconn.edu/.
The SNAP-Ed program is also part of UConn CAHNR Extension. Extension has more than 100
years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs
address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:
● Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
● Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
● Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
● Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.
Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of
Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.

Learn more at:

https://healthyfamilyct.cahnr.uconn.edu/.

Make Your Own Energy Trail Mix

trail mix

Check out this awesome recipe shared by our UConn Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program- EFNEP Educator Erica!

Energy Trail Mix
Many prepackaged trail mixes are very expensive, plus they might have extra added sugar or salt that you don’t need. You may never buy a bagged trail mix again after you try our recipe! We’ve also got Sweet and Salty Trail Mix you should try too!

Makes: 8 servings

Ingredients
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup walnuts, chopped
¾ cup pumpkin seeds
¾ cup sunflower seeds
1½ cups Chex cereal
1 tsp cinnamon

Instructions
Mix apricots, cranberries, walnuts, seeds, and cereal in a bowl.
Sprinkle some of the cinnamon and stir. Repeat until all is covered.
​Divide trail mix into 8 baggies.

Read more at https://www.snap4ct.org/energy-trail-mix.html

Ask UConn Extension Your Questions

Indu
Indu Upadhyaya, Food Safety Assistant Extension Educator. Photo: Kevin Noonan

UConn Extension has collaborated with our partners, communities and stakeholders for over 100 years. We are proud to serve all 169 cities and towns in Connecticut. The worldwide pandemic involving COVID-19 (coronavirus) has produced unprecedented challenges in the UConn community and around the world. Our services continue during this challenging time.

We are still delivering the science-based information you need. We are ready to answer your questions. Consult with us by email or on the phone. All of our educators are working and ready to serve you. Ask us a question online.

We are developing virtual programs to offset canceled in-person learning Abby Beissingeropportunities. Our educators are writing and updating fact sheets and other information. You have access to educational materials on our YouTube channel. We are growing our suite of online resources every day to meet the needs of our communities and stakeholders.

UConn CAHNR Extension educators have curated resources related to COVID-19 for our statewide audiences, including families, businesses, and agricultural producers.

Resources for all audiences includes:

  • Food safety and cooking
  • Hand washing and sanitizers
  • Infection prevention
  • Financial advice
  • Listings of open farms/farmers’ markets and school emergency meal distribution

Parents and families with children out of school can use the resources from our UConn 4-H program to provide new educational activities for youth. Activities available will keep youth engaged and learning and are appropriate for a variety of age groups.

Bruce Hyde presenting at Land Use Academy
Bruce Hyde presenting at Land Use Academy.

A list of resources has been collected for Connecticut businesses. It is a clearinghouse of resources, and not an official site. Business owners can connect to the state resources we provide for official and legal advice.

Agricultural producers are still working on farms, in greenhouses and along the coast in Long Island Sound during the COVID-19 outbreak. Extension educators have developed resources for specific agricultural sectors, including fruit and vegetable farms, aquaculture, and nursery and landscape professionals. Links to important updates from the Connecticut Department of Agriculture also are available.

Our Extension educators are updating and adding resources regularly. Please visit http://bit.ly/COVID-19-Extension.

We are also ready to answer your other questions, including:

  • How do I get my water tested?
  • What is wrong with my plant?
  • Can I eat healthy on a budget?
  • How does my son/daughter join 4-H?

UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:

  • Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
  • Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
  • Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
  • Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.

Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.

We are here. We are ready to serve you.

 

Rooting for Root Vegetables

illustration of root vegetables with the text root recipes under it

We’re rooting for winter with root recipes from our Put Local On Your Tray program. Visit https://putlocalonyourtray.uconn.edu/root-recipes/ to find some warm, filling and nutritious ideas for how to cook carrots, parsnips, beets, radish, or another root vegetable.

Why We Need Local Food in our Schools

Robert Schacht photo of him talking about local food in Connecticut schools

Who wants local food in schools, and why? We’re partnering with 81 school districts in Connecticut through our Put Local On Your Tray program, and helping them to source local food from Connecticut farms. This short video explains the importance of local food in our schools:
 
#UConnImpact

#AskUConnExtension – How do I lose weight?

Our UConn Expanded Food and Education Program (EFNEP) educators are often answer questions from participants about weight loss. Heather Pease, one of our EFNEP educators, offers the following guidelines:

How do I lose weight?

fried chicken next to peppers and an apple
Fried chicken next to an apple and peppers on a white background. The photo was taken to illustrate healthy food versus unhealthy food.
Photo: UConn

The beginning of a new year turns our focus towards renewal and change. Many people will make a “new year’s resolution” such as losing weight.

Losing weight requires changing habits and behavior. Instead of losing –let’s put the focus on ADDING physical activity for stronger bodies and eating more nutrient dense foods that builds healthy bodies!

Smart goals” or specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely intentions can help you make a plan for success. If you want to lose weight in the new decade- ask yourself:

Specifically: How?

  • Track what you eat for a week – where can you make some changes?
  • Eat less calories and move more-
    • Add more:
    • Fruits and Vegetables are low in calories, and high in nutrients
    • Add more: moving!
  • Try a free food tracking app to figure out the quality and quantity of food you are eating.
    • It can also tell you how many calories are you eating? How many calories are you burning?

Measure: How will you measure your changes?

  • Use measuring cups and timers to help you identify how much you are eating and moving
  • Log your movement with your phone
  • Try a free app like google fit or apple health to help measure movement.

Attainable: What steps will take to lose weight

Try using your phone to schedule 3 minute movements every hour at work- That’s 24 minutes of movement- try walking in place or go for a walk

Realistic: It takes time and intention to make change

  • Try to do add on to something you already do that is a good habit- when you eat dinner use a smaller plate
  • Try to set a small goal of exercising for 10 minutes; set a reminder schedule it at the same time every day and it will soon catch on

Timely: Most goals have a deadline- when do you hope to achieve your goal- remember weight loss is about sustainability and health

  • With weight loss the TIME piece can be how much time it takes to lose weight (usually 1 -2 pounds a month and maintain your new habits.
  • Use time to help you ease into new habits, walk 20 minutes after work every day in my house instead of eating. It is important to look at present habits and make small intentional changes J
  • Focus on adding minutes and activities to increase your physical activity, stamina and strength

Article by Heather Pease

Where can we get healthy food? #AskUConnExtension

Where can we get healthy food? Dr. German Cutz, one of our Extension educators, discusses urban agriculture as one option as we use innovative technology and new methods to grow food for our families and communities.

vegetables with two hands picking some up and question: Where can we get healthy food?

#AskUConnExtension

Video: Mike Zaritheny

Holiday Eating Survival Guide

a plate of chocolate covered pretzels with festive sprinkles on them
Photo: Air Force Academy

Choose:

  • Lower calorie appetizers- vegetables, or fruit
  • Avoid lots of cheese, and fried foods
  • Smaller plates and tall skinny glasses

Know your limits:

  • Eat before you go to a party or out holiday shopping
  • Make a healthy food for the party
  • Have a plan for healthy eating… 5 small appetizers and 2 drinks
  • 2 mixed drinks can have almost 500 calories and depending on the appetizers, it can run as high as 230 calories per appetizer
  • Indulge in a holiday treat closer to bedtime, you will tend to eat less than if you had it during the day
  • Be mindful of eating – slow down and pay attention
  • Carry hard candy mints to change the flavor of your palate or brush your teeth to signal yourself to stop eating

Start a new tradition:

  • Instead of giving cookies or chocolate try making soup mixes or salsa as gifts
  • Make a non-food craft as a holiday activity
  • Try walking, ice skating or sledding to enjoy the season
  • Try reducing fat and sugar in your holiday baking by substituting with applesauce

Article by Heather Pease, Extension educator, UConn EFNEP