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Tips from Ingles Dietician Leah McGrath about choosing dairy alternatives or equivalents

Soy, coconut, flax, almond, oat, rice – there are so many options in the dairy aisle, both milk (cow and goat) and non-dairy alternatives, and they are often found side-by-side in the refrigerated case. While some may need non-dairy beverages due to food allergies, religious reasons or dietary preferences, it's important to remember that a dairy alternative isn't necessarily a dairy equivalent.  

Here are a few things to consider:

Ingredients: Check the list of ingredients on non-dairy beverages and compare them with milk. Are the number of ingredients important to you? Added flavoring, color, sweetener, vitamins, minerals and thickeners are often common in dairy alternatives.

Nutrition facts: Check the nutrition facts panel. While many dairy alternatives have added calcium, often their protein amount is much lower than dairy. 

Cost: Check the shelf tag for the cost per ounce. Usually, non-dairy beverages cost more per ounce than dairy.

Medical recommendations: Currently the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations state, “Encourage young children to drink primarily water and plain milk. Early childhood offers an opportunity to establish healthy habits and taste preferences. Water is important for hydration, and plain milk offers many key nutrients including calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, zinc and protein. Fortified soy milk is nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk and is an acceptable alternative. 


Talk to Leah: Leah McGrath is the corporate dietitian for Ingles Markets. Follow her @inglesdietitian. Contact her at, 800-334-4936 or at