Dancer Health

Plant-based milk alternatives: What dancers need to know

milk alternatives

The rise in popularity of non-dairy milk alternatives can be attributed to many diverse reasons, including increased awareness of their health benefits, possible concerns over dairy allergies or intolerances, or even a desire to consume less animal products for personal or ethical reasons. There are many factors behind the explosion in growth of these products that globally was estimated to be worth 11.9 billion U.S. dollars in 2017, and expected to continue to show strong growth1.

While everyone’s reasons for choosing milk alternatives may be different, dancers might be wondering how nutritious they are, especially compared to milk from cows. Dancers just want to know which ones are best for them and why. They all have different strengths and weaknesses, highlighted here. Unless there are allergies to consider, dancers might benefit from mixing different milks to get benefits from their different strengths — for example, making a smoothie with almond and soy milk to get protein, calcium and vitamins E and D. 

Some brands of soy milk have added protein and so may contain 10 grams or more than the usual 6-8 grams. Soy products and almonds naturally contain some calcium, but many brands add additional calcium and therefore may contain as much or more calcium as cow’s milk. You may need to shake the container to make sure the calcium is mixed in well. Like cow’s milk, vitamin D and vitamin A don’t occur naturally but are both added before market. Many brands of plant-based milks will contain the key nutrients listed below, but be aware that some of these vitamins and minerals are voluntarily added to the milk before it hits the shelves, so brands will vary. This article sticks to comparing nutrients in the most popular plant-based milks. We will save the details about the complex science behind reported health benefits for another article such as the cholesterol-lowering, heart-protective and potentially cancer-protective effects of soy milk. Dancers might want to consider some that aren’t on this list as well, such as cashew, flax and coconut milk. If expense is a consideration, it is quite easy to make these at home with a blender and strainer cloth. 

Information below was obtained from the USDA Database for Standard Reference2 and by checking nutrition facts labels on brands currently on store shelves. Nutrition content can vary widely between brands, so check the nutrition facts label and ingredients list for your particular brand. 

1 Cup fluid milk Cow’s

milk Skim

Almond

milk

Soy

milk

Rice

milk

Oat

milk

Protein

 

8g 1-2g 6-10 g 0.7 g 3 g
Saturated fat

 

3g 0g 0.5 g 0 g 0.5 g
Calcium 293 mg 130-451 mg 451 mg 283 mg 350 mg
Vitamin D   

 

120 IU 101 IU 120 IU 101 IU 160 IU
Vitamin A

 

464 IU 500 IU 499 IU 499 IU 533 IU

 

Potassium 342 mg 180-230 mg 300 mg 65 mg 400 mg

 

Emily Harrison Dance NutritionistBy Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD of Nutrition for Great Performances.

Emily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD 
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University, USA. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at emily@dancernutrition.com
www.dancernutrition.com

Sources:

  1. Dairy Alternatives Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Product (Soy Milk, Almond Milk, Rice Milk), By Formulation (Plain, Flavored), By Application (Food, Beverages), And Segment Forecasts, 2019 – 2025.Published by GrandView Research 2019.
  2. USDA Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release 2018. ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list?home=true
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