Are plant milks better for you?
Gone are the days when the most complicated choice you had to make in the milk section of the dairy aisle was reduced fat or whole. Now, you’ll find carton after carton of dairy-like beverages made from foods you never thought could be “milked” — almonds, oats, rice, peas, the list goes on.
These plant-based alternatives are typically made by soaking the legume, nut, grain or other main ingredient and then pressing and straining the liquid, or “milk.” Many people prefer them because they want or need to avoid dairy, but some choose them because they believe they are healthier than cow’s milk. But are all plant-based milks as healthy as they seem?
Today we answer some of the most frequently asked questions our clients ask us about non-dairy alternatives as we compare the most popular non-dairy alternatives on the market.
Are plant-based milks good for me?
This will depend on which type of plant milk you drink, whether it’s fortified, how many added sugars it contains and how it fits in to your overall diet. You shouldn’t assume, for instance, that plant milks contain the same nutrients as cow’s milk. Some of the sweetened versions can also contain more added sugar than a doughnut!
Cow’s milk is naturally rich in protein, calcium, potassium and B vitamins, and is often fortified with vitamin A (which is naturally present in whole milk) and vitamin D. While many plant-based milks are enriched with many of the nutrients found in cow’s milk, not all are.
Cow’s milk also contains nearly an entire daily dose of iodine, which is essential for thyroid development, and recommended for women of child-bearing age as it is important for foetal brain growth and bone development. Plant-based alternatives, on average, contain only 2% of the iodine level found in cow’s milk. Some producers are starting to add iodine, but if you concerned about not getting enough, it’s worth checking.
How do the different types of plant milks compare?
Almond milk: One cup of unsweetened almond milk has just 37 calories — about a quarter the amount in whole milk — and about 96 percent less saturated fat. But it is no match for cow’s milk (or raw almonds themselves) in terms of protein — it has just about 1 gram, compared with the 8 grams present in whole milk.
Oat milk: One of the fastest growing plant milks. One cup of the popular Oatly! brand’s original version has little saturated fat (0.5 grams) and slightly fewer calories than whole milk (120 versus 146), but has 7 grams of added sugars (plain milk has none) and only 3 grams of protein.
One cup does have some fibre — 2 grams — but one cup of oatmeal, for instance, has twice as much fibre as one cup of oat milk. Fibre is important for gut health, cholesterol and blood sugar control, and for maintaining your weight.
Soy milk: When fortified with calcium and vitamins A and D, soy milk is the only non-dairy milk that is comparable to cow’s milk in terms of nutrient balance. One cup has 6 grams of protein, 105 calories and about 89 percent less saturated fat than whole milk. Made from soybeans, it has a similar consistency to cow’s milk and is a natural source of potassium.
Coconut milk: Naturally sweet and with about half the calories of whole milk, coconut milk has little protein (0.5 grams per cup), and has 5 grams of saturated fats — about the same amount as whole milk — with no healthy unsaturated fat.
Pea milk: Sometimes called “plant protein milk,” this beverage is made from yellow split peas. As with other plant milks that are made from legumes, like soy milk, pea milk is high in protein (8 grams per cup) and unsweetened versions contain about half the calories of whole milk, and just half a gram of saturated fat. Pea milk is one of the better non-dairy alternatives due to its protein content and mild taste.
Rice milk: Made from brown rice, rice milk has a naturally sweet taste. It has slightly fewer calories than whole milk (115 versus 146 per cup), and no saturated fat; however it’s very low in protein (0.7 grams per cup.
The beverage also has fast-digesting carbohydrates which can quickly convert into glucose, spiking insulin and blood sugar levels — a potential concern for people with diabetes or with severe insulin resistance.
The bottom line
Non-dairy beverages can be important alternatives for those who are allergic or intolerant to milk or who are otherwise avoiding dairy. And they can be a part of a healthy diet as long as you pay attention to the nutrition facts label and make sure you’re getting the same essential nutrients you’d normally get from real milk.
At Balance Box we know that eating a plant based diet and ensuring you are getting all the right nutrients can be a difficult task. Why not take the stress out of planning a plant best diet and order your plant-based Balance Box plan today? Designed to be perfectly balanced by our nutritionists celebrating the best in plant based convenience. Our chefs use the freshest ingredients without a faux, processed meat in sight. Just delicious, nutritious dishes delivered to your door.