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Did You Ever Milk A Rice Kernel?

I’ve been struggling with the term “oxymoron.” The dictionary defines it as “a figure of speech in which opposite or contradictory ideas or terms are combined (like thunderous silence or sweet sorrow). I know that jumbo shrimp is an oxymoron but what about soy milk? Or rice milk, or almond milk? Have you ever tried to milk any of these plants? I know that the term “milk” in reference to the extract of these foods is common, because the liquids are white, but what concerns me is that the consumer might actually think that they are the nutritional equivalents of dairy products. They aren’t. They might be nutritious, depending on what nutrients you’re looking for, but they simply don’t have the same nutrient profile as cow’s milk.

Because I used to work for the dairy industry, my thoughts on the topic are considered by many to be biased. My job required that I keep current with the latest nutrition research that was in any way connected to milk and milk products, and that exposure made me more knowledgeable than I otherwise might have been. Being a registered dietitian and nutritionist required that I have a basic understanding of the human body’s need for nutrients, and the foods most able to supply them. I know, for example, that one of the major nutrients supplied by cow’s milk is calcium, and that it’s present naturally. Not so for the juice of soybeans or mashed-up rice. Cow’s milk is also one of the best sources of riboflavin.

Soy juice does contain many nutrients, and calcium is added to soy beverages. Still, the bioavailability of calcium from soy juice is roughly 75 per cent of the calcium found in cow’s milk. Also, this so-called “organic” soy beverage is found (at least in my grocery store) in the “natural foods” section. What’s natural about artificially adding calcium?

I haven’t mentioned the merits of almond juice in the discussion about milk replacements. In fact, it was a TV commercial for an almond-based drink that got me thinking about the whole issue. I went to my local grocery store in search of an almond drink, but couldn’t find one. Then I went to the Internet and clicked on the almond product’s website, but they failed to disclose any nutritional information for the drink — lots of stuff about how good almonds are — and they are. Then I emailed the manufacturer asking for info about the product, but received nothing. I do know that a half-cup of almonds will give you almost 500 calories plus 12 grams of incomplete protein and 200 mg of calcium. An eight-ounce (250-ml) glass of whole milk will give you 160 calories, eight grams of complete protein and 300 mg of calcium. They’re equally good sources of potassium and riboflavin; milk has vitamins A and D; almonds have none. I expanded my search and found two almond drinks: one in the non-refrigerated section, and one in the refrigerated, “natural foods section.” Even though almonds are a reasonably good source of protein, the almond beverages are really poor sources; only one gram in an eight-ounce glass. The non-refrigerated product had no vitamins A or D, but added calcium and potassium, but it did come in at only 60 calories per cup. The refrigerated stuff had artificially added vitamins A and D plus calcium, but was still in the natural foods section.

Another oxymoronic nutritional hokum has to do with claims that sea salt contains less sodium than regular or rock salt — as in “lower-sodium sea salt.” Nonsense. Gram for gram, both types of salt contain the same amount of sodium. In the rare instance where sea salt has a few nanograms less sodium, it’s because other minerals have replaced it. Kosher salt (and some brands of sea salt) might contain less sodium by volume (not weight) because it’s fluffier, but if you do comparisons by weight, they’re all basically sodium chloride. Besides, most sea salts don’t have the benefit of being iodized. Does anyone really want to go back to the days of goitre?

Helen Bishop MacDonald is a consulting nutritionist in the agricultural industry.

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