When you're contemplating selections at the grocery store, do you ever stop and consider grabbing an off-brand? After all, its probably exactly the same, right?

Now picture this scenario in the dairy case. We've been sharing the message that "milk is milk" for some time now. But, unfortunately, through the creative marketing schemes of some companies, if something looks like milk, we can no longer be sure if it actually is. Soy, almond, and rice imitation dairy products are, in fact, not milk. They are packaged almost identically to our cow's milk, display a splash of a creamy white liquid on the package, and use words like "all natural." Some of the products are even sold by real dairy companies (i.e. Dean Foods owns the Silk Pure Almond brand). Sales of these products continue to grow. But, make no mistake, these products are not healthier than milk and certainly are not more natural.

Consumers seeking health benefits of a milk alternative product will find very few. Today's Wall Street Journal offered a side-by-side comparison of almond, soy, rice, coconut, and real milk products. Feel free to check it out. You'll notice that the difference among these products, nutritionally, is very small. We do think their milk and cookies test is pretty clever, though. However, their nutritional comparison only looks at only a few nutrients. Most dairy enthusiasts know that milk is packed with nine essential nutrients.

Perceived lactose intolerance may also be the root of consumer interest in these alternatives. However, according to the National Dairy Council, lactose intolerance is rare in younger children and typically emerges in late adolescence or adulthood. This suggests percieved versus actual intolerance are two different things. Regardless, experts from the National Dairy Council also say that most who are lactose intolerant still can enjoy dairy products but in a slightly different way. Here is a few of their suggestions:

- Try it. Opt for lactose-free products.
- Sip it. Introduce dairy slowly.
- Stir it. Mix milk with food.
- Slice it. Choose natural cheeses which have very low lactose.
- Shred it. Top foods with cheese.
- Spoon it. Try yogurt.