Infographic of nutritional alternatives to cow

By P.K. Daniel

Milk is a natural source of 16 essential nutrients. An 8-ounce serving of nonfat milk provides about 30 percent of the recommended daily value (DV) of calcium, 8.25 grams of protein and is usually fortified with 45 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin D.

People with milk allergy face challenges in making sure these essential nutrients are part of their diet. The good news is, grocery store aisles are stocked with milk replacements – soy, almond, rice, hemp and coconut milk – that come close to filling the nutritional void.

Milk allergy is the most common food allergy in infants and young children. It affects approximately 2% of kids under 3 years of age. While children tend to outgrow milk allergy, for many it does not happen until teenage years. And for some it does not happen at all. This leave consumers in need of milk alternatives to ensure a nutritionally balanced diet.

Milk alternatives vary in calories and other nutritional content, but most are enriched with comparable calcium and vitamin D levels, says Bob Geng, MD, pediatric allergist and immunologist at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego.

Soy milk typically contains equal amounts of protein per serving as milk and 50 percent more calcium. It has fewer calories, no cholesterol and 30 percent of RDA of vitamin D. It’s also on par with cow’s milk in vitamins A and B12.

Unsweetened almond milk is a low-calorie option, containing 30 calories per cup. Rice and coconut milk are great sources of calcium. However, all three fall short in the protein department, coming in at just one gram per serving.

There are plenty of non-dairy sources of protein. Hemp powder, which can be added to smoothies and other foods like muffins and oatmeal, has around 15 grams of protein per serving, depending on the brand. Other good sources of protein are tofu, legumes (peas, beans and peanuts are the most common), whole grains and eggs, which also contain vitamins D, A and B12.

A plant-based diet that includes leafy greens also serves as an excellent source for calcium and protein. Lentils and quinoa are great protein sources, with lentils coming in at a whopping 18 grams per 1 cup cooked.

“Keep in mind your body cannot absorb more than 30 grams of protein in one meal, so breaking it up between various sources throughout the day has its advantages,” says Alan Hopkins, MD, a pre-diabetes physician and medical director at Texas Metabolic Center of Austin.

Leafy greens are excellent sources of calcium. Tofu and white beans also fill the bill. Although packed with sugar, many juices are fortified with calcium as well.

Salmon, tuna and sardines provide vitamin D. Liver and some fruits and vegetables have vitamin A, while meat, poultry and fish have B12.