Week of March 19, 2012
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

AICR HealthTalk
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: How do almond and soy milks compare nutritionally to cow's milk?

A: For people avoiding cow's milk due to allergy, lactose intolerance or other reasons, almond milk and soymilk are two of the most popular choices. Their popularity has led to many different options within each category, so check labels since nutritional content varies substantially. The calcium-fortified versions of soy and almond milk provide calcium amounts similar to cow's milk (and some may provide fortification beyond the 30% of Daily Value found in cow's milk). Beyond that, they are quite different nutritionally. Soymilk is closer to cow's milk in protein content, providing 6 grams (g) in an 8-ounce glass compared to the 8 grams in cow's milk. Almonds themselves are packed with protein, but almond milk is really not a source, supplying 1 gram per 8-ounce glass (less than you get in a slice of bread). Calorie content varies substantially. Unsweetened soymilk in regular or "lite" form is similar in calories to either 1% (low-fat) or skim (nonfat) cow's milk. Unsweetened almond milk contains less than half the calories of soymilk. Choosing sweetened versions (including vanilla) adds from 2 to 5.5 teaspoons of sugar per cup, raising calories accordingly. Cow's milk is highest in potassium, which helps control blood pressure, followed by soymilk; almond milk is much lower. On the other hand, almond milk is lower in sodium and supplies half of the daily recommended amount of vitamin E. For vegans and others who have trouble getting the heart-healthy omega-3 fats, one type of soymilk has added the omega-3 fat DHA. Consider what nutrients you want your milk choice to provide and choose accordingly, reading labels among the specific choices to find what best meets your needs.

Q: Do certain foods promote heartburn? When does this become a problem worth reporting to my doctor?

A: Some people find that certain foods spur a bout of heartburn – also known as reflux, acid indigestion or acid regurgitation. Technically called gastroesophageal reflux, it's the burning feeling mid-chest that occurs when acid in the stomach moves up through a valve-like ring of muscle that separates the stomach from the esophagus (the tube that transports food from mouth to stomach, and which lacks the stomach's protective lining to handle these acids). Some foods seem to relax this muscle, making reflux more likely: citrus fruits, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, fatty and fried foods, mint and spicy foods are some of the most common culprits. If you're prone to reflux, try avoiding these foods and see if your reflux improves. Look beyond specific food choices, however. Smoking can also lead to reflux – yet another great reason to stop. Two major culprits are overweight, with excess fat in the abdomen pushing up on the stomach, and overeating, filling the stomach so full that contents push up against that opening to the esophagus. If you get heartburn twice a week or more, see your doctor. Long-term frequent reflux of digestive acids can lead to inflammation and ulcers in the esophagus, cause scar tissue to form or lead to changes in the cells themselves that increase risk of cancer development. Your doctor will be able to make sure that the symptoms you're experiencing really are heartburn, rather than an already-formed ulcer, heart disease or other serious problems.

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