Due to taste preferences, ethical concerns against the production of cow’s milk or lactose intolerance, an increasing number of people are transitioning towards drinking plant-based milks. But exactly how nutritious are they?
Before we begin, I want to point out that homemade plant-based milks are always going to be the better option! They are fresh, and not loaded up with added sugars or preservatives. However, due to time constraints, store bought plant-based milks are the go to for many people. The nutritional properties of these milks depends on the plant source and the processing and fortification process that they have undergone.
I have broken down the nutrition of some of the most popular milks below (along with a table for ease of reading). I could have also discussed macadamia, hazelnut, oat and hemp milk (you get the gist!) but this article would have been horribly long!
Soybeans are a wonderful plant source of high-quality protein (they contain all of the essential amino acids) and are packed with vitamins and minerals, omega fatty acids, and contain very little saturated fat.
A lot of controversy exists surrounding soy milk’s impact upon increasing a woman’s breast cancer risk. This is because soy is a source of isoflavones (phytoestrogens) which are chemicals that can exert estrogen-like effects. Majority of research in this area indicates that the typical amount of soy consumed in the Western diet is safe and is of no harm to humans. Typically, we don’t go around snacking on edamame beans all day, consuming 1L of soy milk and having a big block of tofu for lunch and dinner. If you are having some tofu for dinner and a soy latte in the morning, it is nothing to be concerned about! However, you shouldn’t consume excessive amounts of soy, or soy supplementation products (there is no need).
In regards to soy milk, it is important to note that it comes in both sweetened and unsweetened varieties (always go for the unsweetened one when you can). Flavoured soy milk also usually has added sugars so it’s best to choose plain! While soy beans are an excellent source of calcium, a lot of the calcium gets depleted in the making of soy milk which is why many companies fortify their milk. Consequently, it’s good to choose a calcium-fortified brand (particularly if you are vegan or don’t eat dairy as it will help you to reach your daily calcium requirements).
According to Fortune magazine, the sales of almond milk now exceed $700 million per year and account for 4.1 percent of all milk sales! I think it is safe to say that almond milk is a huge market. Majority of almond milks are only about 2% almonds and are diluted with a heap of water. This explains why they contain a low amount of protein (on average a glass of soy milk has ~ 8 grams of protein, a glass of almond milk has a ~ 1 gram) and calcium. Many also have added sweeteners in the form of sugar, agave/cane or rice syrup – so try to avoid those varieties.
Overall, coconut milk is the least nutritious of all plant-based milks. On average, it has the least amount of protein per cup and typically only small amounts of added calcium. Personally though I really enjoy coconut milk in smoothies or warmed with some cacao powder for a healthy hot chocolate. It is sweet and delicious! But just be weary that it doesn’t provide you with much nutrition.
If you have diabetes, it is important to be know that rice milk has a high carbohydrate content – therefore it is probably not the best option for you. This milk has a very low nutrient value. It lacks Vitamins A and C, contains very little protein and few have added calcium. Most rice milks do not have added sugars as rice milk is naturally sweet!
The table below is a snapshot of the best brands I could find on the market here in Australia (2 products for each kind of plant-based milk!). The amounts are been based on a 1 Cup (250 mls) serving size. None of the milks listed in white have added sugars. I have also outlined a poorer choice in red for each milk alternative just to show you the difference.
Plant-based milks can be a great alternative if you do not want to consume dairy milk! I love putting them in my smoothies and my porridge for a nutty, different taste. Just be aware they are not a great source of nutrition so don’t rely heavily on them to provide you with vitamins & minerals – make sure you are consuming them with lots of whole foods too! 🙂
Images sourced via pinterest. Authors unknown.