nutritional composition of milk alternatives

If you have a child who has lactose intolerance or cow’s milk allergy, chances are you need to think about the nutritional composition of milk alternatives. Cow’s milk and its products are good sources of calcium and trace elements like iodine in the UK diet.  As someone who takes nutrition seriously, a Paediatric Dietitian and mother of 3 growing teenagers, I would like to point out that the nutritional composition of milk alternatives available in our shops is shockingly poor.  It does not serve consumers well, has insufficient nutrition for infants, children or teens, and for those who depend on the nutrients milk would normally provide.  The missing nutrients and their physiological roles are as follows:

  • calcium – for growth and maintenance of strong bones, blood clotting
  • iodine – for neurological development during pregnancy, control of metabolism, thyroid function
  • Vitamin B2 – for healthy skin, eyes and nervous system, releasing energy from food
  • protein – for growth and repair of all body tissues, immune function
  • Vitamin B12 – assists in maturing red blood cells, absorption of iron
  • lactose – the milk sugar – food for the beneficial lactobacillus genus of bacteria, maintenance of a healthy intestinal microbiota

Exciting range of nut milks
I was quite excited to see such an explosion of nut milks now routinely available; and on researching this recently, felt somewhat aggrieved to see such poor nutritional composition.  Nuts are one of nature’s most incredibly nutritious foods – high in calories, protein, essential fats, minerals like zinc, calcium, iron and magnesium as well as B vitamins. They are also (currently) fairly conflict-free and sustainable. There are not many foods you can say that about! Unfortunately none – and yes I do actually mean NONE – of that goodness is retained in the resultant, washed out and expensive product marketed as milk.  Some have no calcium, no protein, no minerals no vitamins, and poor calories. Mil for mil they are 7 times the price.

Compare the nutritional composition of milk alternatives in the chart below, and take care to ensure that you choose ones with higher calories and protein for young children, ensuring they are fortified with calcium, and where possible Vitamin D and other vitamins.

Type of Milk Calories Protein Calcium Vitamin D Extras
Whole Cow’s Milk 69 3.3 120 Low Wide range of nutrients
Cow’s Milk formula 66 1.3 65 1.2 Full range of nutrients
Mature Breast Milk 67 1.3 35* Varies Wide range of nutrients
Goats Milk 70 2.8 120 Low Wide range of nutrients
Arla Lactose Free Milk 56 3.3 120 Low Wide range of nutrients
KoKo unsweetened 16 0.2 120 0.75 Nothing
Oatly Original 46 1.0 120 1.5 Vitamins
Innocent Hazelnut Milk 72 1.0 0 0 Nothing
Innocent Almond Milk 37 1.4 0 0 Nothing
Alpro Soya Original 42 3.3 120 0.75 Vitamins
Alpro Cashew Milk 23 0.5 120 0.75 Vitamins
Alpro Soya Growing-Up 1-3 64 2.5 120 1.5 Iodine, Vitamins
Rice Dream plus calcium 50 0.1 120 0.75 Not for <5years
  • absorption of calcium from breast milk is extremely efficient, but infants needs for calcium from 6-12 months through are high.  Check out  good sources of calcium if weaning your cow’s milk allergic infant.