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HEALTHY DRINK: Milk, a simple and wholesome beverage, has just three ingredients: milk, vitamin A and vitamin D.

Think milk! A missed opportunity

We need to get milk’s story out there — and not be ashamed to tell it over and over.

A decade ago, when consumers turned away in mass from drinking soda, the dairy industry missed an opportunity to help steer consumers to choose a much healthier alternative: milk.

If you think back, many consumers quit drinking soda because they realized it was not a healthy choice for adults or children. It is filled with 9 teaspoons of sugar or more per 12-ounce can. Consumers were being told that soda was helping fuel the obesity crisis, increasing the risk of Type 2 diabetes and other diseases, including cancer. Drinking diet sodas, they learned, was even worse.

So, what are consumers drinking now?

While many switched to water, which is a healthy choice, others turned to sports drinks, bottled teas and specialty coffee drinks, which are all filled with the same high levels of sugar, or high-fructose corn syrup, they were trying to avoid in soda!

Milk alternatives

And of course, others started drinking milk alternatives such as soy milk, coconut milk and almond milk, because they thought those were healthy beverages. I like to refer to almond milk as “nut juice” because, as you know, there is no milk in almond milk. What you may not know is there is very little almond in almond milk — only 2% of the ingredients in almond milk is almonds! That means there are only three or four whole almonds in an 8-ounce glass. What else is in almond milk? A long list of stuff.

Milk, a simple and wholesome beverage, has just three ingredients: milk, vitamin A and vitamin D. When comparing the ingredients list in cow’s milk to nondairy milk alternatives, most consumers will likely be surprised at what they find. Almond milk contains filtered water, almonds, sugar, calcium, vitamin E, zinc, vitamin A, riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin D, sea salt, natural flavor, sunflower lecithin, locust bean gum, gellan gum and ascorbic acid. That’s 16 ingredients versus only three ingredients in cow’s milk.

According to the Milk Life website, cow’s milk is an important source of additional nutrients, including thiamin (vitamin B1), vitamin B6 and zinc, that work in concert with other B vitamins like pantothenic acid to help convert your food into energy and magnesium, which also helps to build strong bones. Plus, milk has selenium, which works with vitamin A to help maintain a healthy immune system.

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy drinking a cold glass of milk and pouring milk on my oatmeal every morning. I don’t like the taste of almond milk. It tastes very chalky to me, and well … fake!

What about cost?

I can buy a gallon of whole milk at my grocery store for $1.58, which works out to fewer than 10 cents for an 8-ounce glass. What about almond milk? Almond milk costs $3.36 per half gallon; that’s $6.72 per gallon, which works out to 42 cents for an 8-ounce serving. That means almond milk costs more than four times as much as cow’s milk.

If a family of four consumes 4 gallons of cow’s milk per week, that would cost $6.32 per week, or $328 per year. If a family of four consumes 4 gallons of almond milk per week, that would cost $25.28 per week, or $1,314.56 per year. It’s easy to see that drinking cow’s milk is much more budget-friendly than drinking almond milk.

And while I like drinking cow’s milk, I also use milk in a lot of foods that I cook, including puddings, macaroni and cheese, casseroles, butter cream frosting and sauces. I can’t imagine using almond milk in any of those dishes. There just isn’t any comparison when it comes to milk and milk alternatives. Milk tastes the best, packs the most nutrition and is far more economical than milk alternatives.

Even though the dairy industry has pretty much been asleep at the switch when it comes to promoting the virtues of milk as a beverage, I don’t think it’s too late to tell the public milk’s story. We just need to make it a priority in dairy promotion like it was in the ’80s and ’90s when we had the “Got Milk?” ad campaign and the celebrity milk moustache campaign or “Milk, It Does a Body Good” campaign. We need to get milk’s story out there and not be ashamed to tell it over and over.  

While overall consumption of milk products such as cheese, butter and yogurt has been increasing and has risen to 640 pounds of milkfat equivalent per person per year, domestic consumption of fluid milk has been declining between 1% and 2% for each of the past 10 years. With a little effort, I think we can get consumers to Think Milk!

Comments? Email fran.oleary@farmprogress.com.

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