I was in Starbucks recently (I try to avoid it, but its always “right there” and so too, mid morning, is my need for caffeine). “Are you lactose intolerant?” I asked my friend as she poured soy milk into her coffee. “No”, she shrugged, ” I just don’t think cow’s milk is good for you.” “Hmm”, I said, unscrewing the silver thermos of Whole Milk.
It’s not that I’m opposed to “the other white milk”, it’s just that I think we’ve been co-opted into believing that cow’s milk is bad, while alternative milk, the surest path to health salvation. (At last count there was soy, rice, almond, oat, hazelnut, coconut and hemp milk.)
To see if I was making too big a deal of this, I went to Whole Foods with a measuring tape. (As one does.) Amount of shelf space allocated to alt-milk – 80 sq. feet. Dairy milk – 20. Four times as much space for alt-milk! Granted this was a highly unscientific study conducted with a flimsy measuring device and because they are frequently replenishing the perishable dairy milk, they could be selling more than alt-milk, but still – four times!
Trends aside, what’s on the inside?
- Soy milk contains a ton of added sugar. (Unless it’s “unsweetened”). Fruit Loops has 12g of sugar per cup – so does West Soy Organic Original*. If you’re drinking Chocolate flavor, eat a Hershey’s bar instead (24g of sugar vs. 23g in a cup of ZenSoy Chocolate.)
- The majority of calcium is added. (There is some disagreement as to whether added calcium is as well absorbed as naturally-occurring, but I am of the belief that what’s added by a processor is never as good as what’s added by nature.)
- Vitamins D, E and A are all added (none is naturally occurring).
- Protein level is comparable to cow’s milk (about 8g/cup), but read the ingredients to see if soy protein isolate is added. SPI is an extracted and highly processed form of soy protein.
- Some brands contain flavors (both natural and artificial) as well as additives.
- Many of the cheaper and non-organic brands use beans processed with hexane (a petroleum derivative).
Find your brand on this chart.
You might also want to look for your brand here. The Cornucopia Institute considers not the micro nutritional info, as I did, but the broader corporate practices (including the use of hexane, as referenced above).
If you drink, drink responsibly
If you’re vegan, lactose intolerant or grossed-out by the idea of humans drinking another mammal’s milk, then drink soy (or another alt-milk), but if nothing else, be aware of the sugar and choose an organic, premium priced brand.
Wondering about other health issues around soy? See this post where that’s addressed.
I have a soft spot for cows and would hate to see them out of work, so until I bow to pressure, cow’s milk (the kind from my local farmer- except for those occasional times at Starbucks) is going in my coffee.
And you? Alt-milk? Or are your loyalties with the cow.
*Cow’s milk also has 12g, making it not a low sugar product, but lactose is absorbed slightly more slowly than glucose (added to most soy milks). Moreover, the sugar in milk is naturally occurring, while the higher fat in whole milk helps slow the absorption of the sugar.
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