November 09, 2022
As plant-based milks increase in popularity, it is important to understand how they impact your intake of essential mineral micronutrients, and more.
Finding the best plant-based milks to meet your needs can be a drippy endeavour. Yet, with the help of this guide to plant-based milk, you will no longer cry over spilt milk facts. Whether you want to choose a plant-based milk because you need a lactose-free, dairy-free option, or for health, sustainability or animal ethics reasons come discover the healthiest plant-based milk for your needs. Plus, here are some surprising facts you’ll want to know before pouring your next glass of milk.
With the exception of coconut milk, most plant-based milks are made from a water-based plant extract of these plant ingredients. The creamy mouthfeel makes them an ideal alternative to those seeking a substitute for milk in their diet.
Plant-based milk may be a healthy choice for some lifestyles. Low in saturated fat and lactose-free, plant-based milks are ideal to some groups of people, including vegans. The plant-based protein contents vary amongst plant-based milk, with soy milk commonly being the highest in protein, with some containing up to 10g per serving. When fortified with calcium, vitamin B12 and other nutrients, plant-based milks can offer health benefits. However, plant-based milk can vary greatly in their nutrient profiles based on how well they are fortified. Vegans should read the label of their preferred plant-based milk to determine if alternative sources of vitamin B12 are needed in their diet, as this population can struggle to find sufficient sources of this vital nutrient.
Some of the reasons people choose a plant-based milk, include:
Dairy-free plant-based milks are lactose-free and analysis shows they do not contain high amounts of saturated fat or calories, as such researchers argue they may be a healthier choice than cow’s milk for some. According to researchers, soy milk offers the highest protein of plant-based milks, while almond and oat were close behind. Fortification with calcium can help some plant-based milks achieve levels equivalent to that of cow’s milk. If your favourite plant-based milk is low in calcium, eat more cruciferous vegetables, almonds, peas, beans & lentils. Of note, Western diets use cow’s milk as a source of some micronutrients (selenium, magnesium, zinc, potassium). These nutrients are found in plant-based milks in varying amounts. A holisticeating plan that’s rich in whole foods (bananas, pumpkin, broccoli, seeds, whole grains, lentils, and certain nuts) can support your micronutrient requirements.
With Western diets relying heavily upon milk to contribute substantial levels of vitamin D, a shift to plant-based milks may mean you need to supplement with vitamin D if your preferred alternative beverage is not sufficiently fortified: analysis of plant-based milks on the market by researchers found that almost 60% do not contain sufficient fortification of vitamin D.
Not all plant-based milks are created equal. Here’s a quick guide to plant-based milks to help you find the best fit for your health:
Made with almonds and water, almond milk is a plant-based beverage that has been consumed in the Mediterranean for many years. A lactose free milk alternative with no saturated fat, almond milk is attractive to lactose intolerant and those with heart health concerns. Opt for unsweetened almond milks to reduce added sugar intake. Fortified almond milks may offer more of needed calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12. Almond milks vary in protein content from brand to brand. Shake well before use to redistribute nutrients in the watery solution of this beverage. Almond milk is not appropriate for people with tree nut allergies.
Similar in basic nutrients to almond milk, cashew milk has a slightly different flavour and mouth-feel. Try a variety of unsweetened nut milks and brands, until you find the one you like best.
Creamy delicious coconut milk is a popular plant-based milk due to its beloved flavour. However, it’s worth noting it is higher in saturated fat, and commonly lower in calcium than other plant-based milks.
With a creamy texture and flavour that suits lattes and teas, oat milk is adored by many plant-based milk drinkers. Oat milks tend to contain more sugar than other plant-based milks. Sweetened oat milks can contain particularly high amounts of added sugar. Oats are a source of beta-glucan known to help naturally lower cholesterol, and other health-promoting fibers – but, read the labels as some oat milks may not contain much fiber. With 4g of protein per cup, oat milk offers about half of what is found in cow’s milk.
Rice milk is a plant-based milk some with allergy concerns reach for. It is low in protein and has a relatively high glycemic index. Not a significant source of calcium, some rice milks are enriched – read your labels to discover what’s in your rice milk of choice.
Higher in protein than most plant-based milks, soy milk is a popular choice. Made with soybeans and water, soy milk is sometimes made with thickeners or stabilizers, such as carrageenan. Many brands have switched out carrageenan for alternative ingredients due to consumer demand after studies raised safety concerns about semi-refined carrageenan.
You are unique and so are your body’s needs. With a variety of plant-based milks available in Canada, there are many options to meet your needs. For optimal results, read the label of your preferred choice to ensure the nutrients you desire are present. Nutritional facts vary amongst types of plant-based milk, as well as between brands.
Originally created for the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition Distance Education. Deliciously Geeky offers witty wellness content creation (that's science-backed, of course) for many wellness organizations.
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