What is the first thing you think about when you think about the word milk? Calcium? Vitamin D? “Got milk?”

Also, I’m willing to bet that most folks will associate the word “milk” with cow’s milk specifically. Have you checked out the milk coolers at your local supermarket? It’s had some major changes in the last decade. The most noticeable change has been the introduction of dairy alternatives.

You may be wondering, “What are dairy alternatives?” Dairy alternatives are plant-based alternatives made to closely mimic certain properties of cow’s milk, such as taste, mouth feel and nutritional properties. But are they safe? In short … yes.

In terms of nutritional properties, you may be wondering about calcium. Calcium, specifically when paired with vitamin D (obtained through fortified foods and sunlight exposure) is extremely important to your health. I mean, after all, you have more calcium in your body than any other mineral. Calcium makes up a large portion of your bones and teeth as well as playing a major role in heart health, muscle functioning, blood clotting and nerve signaling.

The recommended daily intake of calcium is 1,000 mg a day for most adults. Although, women over the age of 50 and everyone over 70 should be consuming an additional 200 mg a day because of the increased risk of osteoporosis, and children aged 4-18 are advised to consume an additional 300 mg since they are still growing. 

To put things in perspective: a cup of cow’s milk would contain 300 mg of calcium.

Other good sources of calcium include seeds, nuts, leafy greens, legumes (beans and lentils), dried fruit, tofu, along with other calcium fortified foods such as dairy alternatives. Leafy greens provide 250 mg of calcium a cup, falling just behind cow’s milk. Dairy alternatives, however, are fortified with calcium to at least match that of cow’s milk. 

However, if you are considering a change, there are some important key factors to keep in mind. For instance, many dairy alternatives have added sugars to mimic that of the natural sugar (lactose) found in cow’s milk. When considering sugar intake, the American Heart Association recommends that we should consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day for women and 9 teaspoons for men (1 teaspoon of sugar being just slightly over 4 grams). 

Another important factor is considering your protein sources. While some dairy alternatives, such as soy milk, have the same protein content as that of cow’s milk (8 grams of protein a cup), others such as rice milk contain less than a gram of protein in a serving. It is important to check the food label prior to purchase if this is a potential concern of yours.

It is important to remember that vitamin B12 is only found in animal sources or fortified foods. While many dairy alternatives are fortified with vitamin B12, their content varies greatly. So, if you are planning on following a plant-based diet, it is important to make sure you are getting enough vitamin B12. 

Maybe cutting calories is the name of the game? Sweetened soy milk contains 130 calories a cup, but if you use the unsweetened version, you can cut calories down to only 80 calories.

Whole cow’s milk contains 160 calories a cup. Switching to skim milk cuts the calories in half to 80 calories a cup. Sweetened almond milk contains only 60 calories, while the unsweetened contains 30 calories.

Perhaps you are considering a change, because you never really enjoyed the taste of milk. Perhaps you are considering a change because of a health diagnosis, such as lactose intolerance. Whatever your reasons, it is important to remember that dairy alternatives are safe for consumption.

However, keeping the above in mind and continuing to make mindful choices when it comes to your food intake could prove beneficial for your health in the long haul.

 

AMANDA STEELE is a senior majoring in dietetics at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

Dairy-Free Cheesecake

24 ounces vegan cream cheese

2 cups plain yogurt, such as coconut milk, almond, soy or cashew yogurt

2-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup sugar or maple syrup, or xylitol for sugar-free

Pinch uncut stevia or 2 additional tablespoons sugar

4 teaspoons corn starch

 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Fill a baking pan halfway with water, place on oven’s lower rack.

Bring cream cheese to room temperature. Beat all cheesecake ingredients with a food processor just until smooth. (Don’t overbeat, it would introduce air bubbles that might burst in the oven causing cracking.) Smooth on top of prepared crust. Place on the middle rack, above rack with water pan. Bake 30 minutes, don’t open oven door during this time.

When the time is up, still don’t open the oven even a crack, but turn off heat. Leave in closed oven for an additional 5 minutes. Then remove cake — it will still look underdone — let cool at least 20 minutes before placing the cheesecake in the fridge. It’s important to let it cool before refrigerating, you want it to cool gradually so it doesn’t crack.

Chill at least six hours or overnight, during which time it firms up. Store leftovers covered in fridge three-four days, or freeze slices if desired.

Dairy-free Fettuccine Alfredo

1/2 tablespoon olive oil

4 cloves garlic minced

1 shallot finely chopped

2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth 

1-1/2 cups plain, unsweetened nondairy milk 

1 teaspoon salt plus more to taste (reduce if using a salty broth)

8 ounces dry fettuccine

Black pepper, dried oregano and red pepper flakes to taste

Chopped fresh basil or parsley for serving

 

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. 

Add garlic and shallot to pan along with a sprinkle of salt, stir. Cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until garlic is softened and shallot is turning translucent; avoid browning.

Add broth, nondairy milk and salt, stir. Add dry pasta, gently prod it around to submerge it under the liquid. If not all of it fits now, gently push it into pan after the submerged portion has softened later.

Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Stir occasionally, gently separating any pasta that starts to stick together. Cook 20 minutes or until sauce has thickened onto pasta and the texture is to your liking. If too much liquid is cooking off, reduce the heat a bit, and add more nondairy milk.

Season to taste, serve with fresh herbs and other toppings if desired. Best served immediately, but leftovers keep for three-five days in the fridge

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