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Not All Milk Alternatives Created Equally

CHICAGO (CBS) -- You used to only see three varieties of milk in the dairy case: whole, 2 percent or skim.

But now, there are at least four other kinds of milk competing for your dollar. CBS 2's Susan Carlson explains the differences and which one may be best for you.

Besides cow's milk, there is now soy, almond, coconut and rice milk to choose from.

Registered dietician Jennifer Ventrelle of Rush University Prevention Center says each has their own benefits.

Cow's milk, of course, is loaded with calcium.

"There's about 50 percent of what you need in a day in cow's milk," Ventrelle says.

She added that whole milk is best for children up to age two.

"Kids really need the special types of fat that are in there for brain development," she says.

While whole milk has 150 calories per 8 ounce serving, most of the alternatives have a lot less.

Regular soy milk has 100 calories per 8 ounce serving, but also has 300 milligrams of heart-healthy potassium per glass. This is more than any other dairy milk alternative.

Nonetheless, there is a concern that too much soy protein could cause your body to absorb less of that potassium, and it may be linked to breast cancer.

"If someone were concerned about that I would tell them to limit their intake of soy protein to 25 grams or less, a cup of soy milk is providing 8 of those grams," Ventrelle says.

Almond milk is Ventrelle's favorite and is what she recommends most often because it is the lowest in calories. But it has less calcium and protein than cow's milk and it does contain fat.

"The fat comes from almonds which is monounsaturated fat, which is actually healthy for your heart," Ventrelle says.

At 3.5 grams per 8 ounce glass, almond milk has less fat than soy or coconut milk.

On the other hand, coconut milk, which does not have cholesterol, has as much saturated fat as whole milk.  But manufacturers say it is less likely to be stored as fat and contribute to heart disease.

The last alternative to cow's milk is rice milk, which has the least amount of fat. The downside: It also has the least amount of calcium and protein.

No matter which kind you choose, you should always look for added calcium and Vitamin D, and choose a light version to cut down on calories.

"I drink soy milk or almond milk," consumer Veronica Garza says. "I think my health, in the long run, is worth it."

If you still want your kids to drink cow's milk, skim milk is best for kids older than two. But it is also safe for them to drink the alternative milks.

If you are worried about the presence of hormones, look for hormone-free dairy milk or try organic.

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