Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bottoms Up! Dairy Milk Alternatives

by Kris Pitcher

I recently read seventy-five percent of the population is, or has at some point been, lactose intolerant. Lactose is the disaccharide (two) sugar made up of galactose and glucose found in dairy products, like milk. Many people have a difficult time processing this sugar, termed intolerance.

There are many reasons why someone wouldn't want to drink milk besides lactose intolerance. People choosing a vegan, or vegetarian lifestyle. Anyone who has celiac disease - which is an allergic reaction to gluten where it destroys the lining of the small intestine. Although milk doesn't have gluten in it, some other dairy products may and it can often be easier to have a dairy free diet.

Soy has been the dairy free alternative of choice for a long time for those seeking a substitute. But there's another really good choice for you to consider. And there are some things the scientific community is beginning to learn about soy that may make it a better choice for some than others.

Let's take a look at almond milk. Almond milk is made from crushing almonds, much like soy milk is made from crushing soy beans. For comparison I looked at Almond Breeze Unsweetened, and Silk Soy Milk. Cup for cup here's the break down.

Almond milk has 68 calories per cup; 8 gm carbs; 3.5 gm fat; 1 gm protein
Soy milk has 92 calories per cup; 8 gm carbs; 4 gm fat; 6 gm protein

Now, if we ONLY looked at the caloric profile - we might pick the soy based on protein. But we have to look deeper. The almond milk has omega 3 & 6 fatty acids. These unsaturated essential fatty acids provide anti inflammatory protection against cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and depression. The omega 6's help to reduce bloating associated with PMS, maintain healthy skin, hair and nails, and help us maintain hormonal and emotional balance. A healthy balance of omega 3:6 ratio is critical for metabolic function at a cellular level. This alone should have you reaching for almond milk.

The first thing to point out about the soy milk's fat content is it's profile is different. It has 2.5 gm of polyunsaturated (omega 3 & 6), but the rest (1.5 gm) is monounsaturated (which acts like a saturated) and saturated fats. We don't get the same benefits. All fat is not equal.

One of the benefits of soy has been thought to be it's phytoestrogens. Soy sterols called isoflavones are similar to estrogen and bind selectively to estrogen receptors. It's thought these may be helpful during menopause as well as in protecting against cardiovascular disease. The scientific community is not in agreement about whether this is beneficial or not.

There are many studies out there, and much more research to be done. One thought is the soy sterols may interfere with progesterone during pregnancy. Another is it may counteract the effects of chemo and tamoxifen therapy and women with breast cancer should avoid it. Obviously, these are decisions to be made with your health care team.

As with any nutritional choice, there are value issues and information issues. The beauty is...there are choices and alternatives. So the next time you stop to get your - double tall, half-caff, one pump sugar free vanilla, latte - think about adding almond milk! Bottoms up!

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