-- Milk has been called "nature's perfect food" but can you improve on perfection?
Plant-based milks, like soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk and a variety of other non-dairy alternatives, are moo-ving in on cow's milk for space on store shelves and refrigerators, providing a lower-calorie, lactose-free, vegan-friendly alternative.
But not so fast putting cow's milk out to pasture.
"Cow's milk (is) high in protein, it's a natural source of calcium, and it's also fortified with vitamin D and A," says Lisa Cimperman, RD, a clinical dietitian at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. "Most of these plant-based milks have very little protein."
Protein can make you feel fuller for longer and the saturated fat in cow's milk is one source for toddlers from one- to three-years old to get the important nutrient for brain development.
"A lot of consumers might choose a plant-based milk like almond milk or cashew milk because it's far lower in calories than even skim milk," says Cimperman. But critics argue some plant-based milks are mostly water and are often artificially-sweetened. "If you're buying plant-based milk, get the unsweetened version," Cimperman recommends.
For now, plant-based alternatives make up less than 10 percent of the market but that's growing and even the term "milk" has come under question for any of these drinks that don't come from a cow. "You'd be hard-pressed to think of a different terms," says Cimperman in defense of what to call these alternatives.
So, according to Cimperman, it comes down to personal choice: protein, saturated fat, and no sugar for milk versus less calories, no lactose, and vegan-safe for plant-based milks.
"I don't think there's no nutritional hierarchy here where I would place cows' milk above all else or almond milk above all else," says Cimperman. "It really does come down to individual preferences and what they're needs are."