July 18, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Dairy Alternatives/Rice Milk

I found recently that cows milk and I don't get on, which is a pity since I love cheese.

Anyway, I've been avoiding cheese while I try to lose weight.

I have also switched from cow's milk to rice milk, but I'm not sure if rice milk has more fat or calories, and I'm finding the labeling on my cartons a little confusing.

Is rice milk okay, or should I be looking to other alternatives? (I'm not a big fan of the soy milk flavor).

-- Ryan Nelson
Brighton, England

Lactose intolerance can occur in varying degrees.

Being unable to digest cow’s milk does not necessarily mean cheese and yogurts should also be off-limits.

A slice of hard cheese – such as Swiss – offers a tenth of the lactose in a glass of milk. The active cultures in some yogurts, meanwhile, can also help avoid digestive problems.

Let’s assume, though, that your intolerance to lactose is such that even the tiniest amount in any dairy product offsets problems.

In that case, I don’t consider rice milk an equal alternative to cow’s milk.

Whereas soy milk is a good source of protein and is often fortified with calcium and vitamin D, the same does not hold for rice milk.

Consider the following:

A cup (8 fluid ounces) of skim milk contains 91 calories, 8.7 grams of protein, and 30% of the daily calcium requirement.

A cup of reduced-fat (2%) milk adds up to 123 calories, 8.1 grams of protein, and 28.5% of a day’s calcium needs.

A cup of rice milk? 120 calories, 1 gram of protein, and just 2% of the daily calcium requirement.

In your case, I would recommend Lactaid products (which I believe are sold under the name Milkaid in the UK) – whether it’s actual Lactaid milk or having a Lactaid pill prior to consuming dairy.


Jemma said...

I'm vegetarian but I have rice milk on my cereal because I don't like dairy milk. The rice milk I buy is calcium-enriched and has 126 calories, 1 gram of protein and 38% of the daily requirement of calcium. I think that this compares okay to dairy milk, except with protein.

Justin J said...

Andy -

There's a big difference between drinking lactase-treated milk such as Lactaid and using a lactase supplement with untreated milk. When the milk is treated with the enzyme prior to consumption, almost 100% of the lactose is converted into glucose and galactose. This is almost never true when taking a supplement; it is difficult to ensure that all of the lactose will be broken down in vivo.

Andy Bellatti said...


Thank you for your comment. I recommended either option for Ryan because I do not know his "level" of lactose intolerance.

Depending on the degree of their intolerance, some people find taking a lactase supplement with dairy milk helpful, while others don't (for the exact reasons you mention.)