Kirstin Kavountzis, Contributing Writer |
o To contrast real milk and non-dairy milk
o Become more knowledgeable about the health effects without dairy
o Possible Interventions without dairy
Nowadays, when down the grocery aisle, one can find a variety of non-dairy options.
Between 2017 and 2019, the sales of non-dairy substitutes grew 14%, however are failing to look
further into the nutritional value behind the product? (4). Non-dairy milk options can include
almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, or even hemp milk (8). Before blindly purchasing these
products, it is crucial to look at the food labels and compare them, since these products can be
missing key essential nutrients, human beings need to live healthily. The main differences
between real milk and non-dairy milk include protein and calcium levels, sugar, and price.
Real cow milk contains 8 grams of protein per 8 oz glass, whereas almond and rice milk
may only have one gram. This would cause the individual to have to find other ways to ingest
extra protein in their diet to meet daily requirements. In addition, dairy milk has naturally a high
calcium content, while in many plant milks, they are typically fortified to get the same amounts
of calcium and contain added sugar. Not only is it harder to have the same nutritional content
between an 8 oz glass of real milk and 8 oz glass of non-dairy milk, but it is also more costly to
buy a non-dairy substitute; when it has less nutritional value. In addition to protein and calcium,
the substitution of non-dairy milk in the place of real milk can lead to gaps in other nutrients like
phosphorus and vitamin b-12 levels. If someone were to compare the food labels between real
dairy milk and non-dairy milk, it is noticeable that the ingredient list for real milk is shorter,
whereas the non-dairy milk ingredient list can be much longer. There is a common notion that
the longer the ingredient list, the more modified the food product is. However, why modify the
food product with salt, sugar, stabilizers, Gellan gum, etc., when dairy milk is naturally nutrient
rich (9). It contains calcium, protein, vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Vitamin A, Phosphorus,
Riboflavin, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid, Zinc, Selenium, Iodine, and Potassium (5). According to
the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, many Americans including children, lack calcium,
vitamin d, and potassium in their diet. Adding dairy milk to meals can easily help individuals
meet their RDA requirements.
According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), the requirement is
for “adults to consume three cups of low-fat or fat-free dairy per day”, most Americans do not
meet the recommended requirements, even though dairy provides more than half of the calcium
and vitamin D (2). Since milk is the top source of all 13 essential nutrients in diets, Federal food
assistance programs administered by USDA aim to incorporate dairy options to help promote
healthier meal habits. Even in schools for children, un-flavored and flavored milk is always
given since it is so crucial for their development in bone health. Despite misconceptions,
flavored milk is still offered because it contains the same amount of essential nutrients with
limited added sugars (compared to other beverages with added sugars).
Incorporating real dairy with your diet can lead to benefits like lowering cardiovascular
diseases (CVD) when ingesting low-fat and fat-free dairy foods. Again, despite misconceptions,
recent evidence has shown that dairy consumption with any fat content does not increase CVD.
However, many people are unaware of these new findings, so they are missing potential benefits
and key nutrients. There are health risks associated with not meeting the daily requirements of
calcium like increased bone fractures and osteoporosis, a bone disease caused by producing too
little bone. In fact, “The International Osteoporosis Foundation says that more than 200 million
people worldwide are affected by osteoporosis—that’s a number the Foundation expects to grow
more than 200 percent in the next 30 years” (1). This number is exceedingly high, which is why
more knowledge needs to be brought to the public. Young adults typically reach their peak bone
mass in their twenties, then both men and women lose that bone density steadily as the years
follow (2). This is a natural process that happens as people grow older. But affect women more
so than men due to a stage called menopause (2). Since plant-based milk options do not have the
same nutritional content as real milk if you were to add or lose one serving of dairy, a calcium
equivalent serving “1.1 servings of fortified soy beverage, 0.6 serving of fortified orange juice,
1.2 servings of bony fish, or 2.2 servings of leafy greens” (11). Replacing dairy means having to
double of servings on foods like so to have adequate levels. This alters the overall nutritional
profile of one’s diet and affects nutrients previously mentioned like, protein, potassium,
magnesium, phosphorus, riboflavin, vitamins A, D and B12.
It is so crucial and important for our bodies to absorb the nutrients in real milk. Although,
there are scenarios where people cannot have real milk, like if they have a dairy allergy or
lactose intolerance. In these predicaments there are alternatives. Lactose-free milk is an easy
alternative to eliminate symptoms that people who are lactose-intolerant have like abdominal
pain, bloating, diarrhea, and belching (8). Lactose-free milk contains an added enzyme called
lactase; an enzyme used to break down lactose. Lactose-free milk is still a dairy product and
contains the same nutrients as regular milk. Like regular milk it is a reliable source of proteins
and micronutrients like calcium, phosphorus, vitamin b-12, riboflavin, and vitamin D (8). Soy
milk is the only non-dairy milk that has the closest nutritional value to regular milk is soy milk,
however, it lacks potassium. But that means less nutrients one would have to compensate for
when trying to meet all the requirements they are missing from real milk. Then, you can soley
focus on finding more substitutions for potassium. Now, if a person is allergic to dairy products
or vegan, it is important to not cut it out of your diet completely. Vegans have “a 30% higher risk
of fracture compared to meat eaters, but they also had a significantly lower calcium intake than
all the other groups.” (8). If someone is eating a whole-food, plant-based diet, 500 mg of calcium
can be attainable through dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, turnip greens, boy choy, broccoli;
consume fortified foods, or even tofu, which are both high in calcium. (6).
(1) Brenza, Holly. “Here’s Why Your Dairy-Free Diet May Be Dangerous.” Health Enews, 14 May
(2) Brown, Stephanie. “USDA Recommends 3 Cups of Dairy per Day. Is It Too Much?” Verywell
Health, Verywell Health, 12 Nov. 2021, https://www.verywellhealth.com/usda-excessive-dairyrecommendation-5209241.
(3) Candace Pumper MS, RD. “Magnesium: Are You Getting Enough?” Ohio State Health and
Discovery, The Ohio State University, 7 Dec. 2022, https://health.osu.edu/wellness/exerciseand-nutrition/are-you-getting-enough-magnesium.
(4) Dairy vs Non-Dairy Milk: How Do They Compare? | Joyfuel Eats.
(5) FloridaMilk, and Solodev. “What Are Milk’s 13 Essential Vitamins and Nutrients.” What Are
Milk’s 13 Essential Vitamins and Nutrients, https://www.floridamilk.com/in-thenews/blog/health/what-are-milks-13-essential-vitamins-and-nutrients.stml.
(6) “How to Get Calcium without Dairy.” Center for Nutrition Studies, 7 Jan. 2019,
(7) Kay, Stephanie. “Almond Milk vs. Cow Milk: Which Is Healthier?” Stephanie Kay Nutrition, 8 Nov.
(8) Link, Rachael. “Lactose-Free Milk: How Does It Differ from Regular Milk?” Healthline, Healthline
Media, 20 Dec. 2018, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/lactose-free-milk.
(9) More, Milk Means. “Real Milk vs Non-Dairy Milk: What’s the Difference?” United Dairy Industry
of Michigan, 24 June 2019, https://www.milkmeansmore.org/real-milk-vs-non-dairy-milkwhats-the-difference/.
(10) U.S. Dairy. “Science Summary: Cardiovascular Disease.” Science Summary: Dairy &
Cardiovascular Disease | U.S. Dairy, National Dairy Council, 25 Mar. 2021,
(11)Y;, Nachshon L;Katz. “[The Importance of ‘Milk Bones’ to ‘Wisdom Bones’ – Cow Milk and Bone
Health – Lessons from Milk Allergy Patients].” Harefuah, U.S. National Library of Medicine,