Over the past few years, there has been a drastic increase in the number of plant-based milk alternatives. Now there is easy access to any type of plant milk you could possibly think of, and manufacturers continue to produce more.
An increase in production means a rise in demand, so the main question is why do people switch to plant-based milk, and is it actually better?
What are the most common plant-based milk alternatives?
Soy, almond, coconut, cashew, rice, oat, pea, walnut, hazelnut, banana milk, and this list could go on and on. Quite impressive, right?
Given a huge variety of alternatives, one of the main questions for consumers is how to choose the healthiest type and if there are any pitfalls.
To evaluate the nutritional values, we made a table comparing the most common types of milk with cow milk.
*Per 100 g
- Cow milk and rice milk have similar calorie values, while almond milk has the lowest.
- Soy milk appears to be the best alternative in terms of proteins when other types have significantly lower numbers.
- Almond and soy milk don’t have any carbohydrates. Coconut milk has a twice smaller carbohydrate content as cow milk, while rice milk has almost twice as much carbohydrates as cow milk.
- In terms of fat, soy milk has the highest content, while coconut has the lowest.
Which plant-based milk is the healthiest?
Milk is an important protein and vitamin source. The normal protein content in one glass of milk is around 8 grams. It should also contain minimum sugar and minimum preservatives.
If you are on a diet, milk with a low carbohydrate and calorie content would be a better option for you.
Let’s look at these plant-based milk alternatives in more detail to figure out the pros and cons of each.
Soy milk appears to be the best alternative when it comes to nutritional value: it is rich in proteins, fats, and vitamins. It has different beneficial health effects, such as better heart health, lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure.
Although there has been an ongoing debate that soy contains isoflavones, which act similar to estrogen and may increase cancer risk, studies suggest that they have no negative effect. Some of the concerns are that soybeans are genetically modified (GMO) and contain antinutrients that lower the body’s digestive and absorptive functions.
Almond milk has few calories, but it is very low in proteins and fats and has little nutritional value. It is often fortified with calcium and vitamins to improve its health benefits.
However, almond milk is high in vitamin E that helps protect your cells from damage. It is naturally lactose-free and thus a good substituent for lactose-intolerant people.
Because almond milk is only made from almond and water, thickeners, sugars, and preservatives are added for better taste. This is a crucial point to think of when buying plant-based milk.
Coconut milk is quite high in calories but has the lowest protein. It is a good source of iron, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, and several other vitamins. Most of its calories come from saturated fat, which goes straight to the liver, where it is used as an energy source rather than stored as fat. It may increase the metabolism and help lose belly fat.
However, some people are concerned it saturated fat may be bad for your heart. Coconut milk may slightly increase “bad” cholesterol, so it is something to be aware of when buying coconut milk.
Last but not least, rice milk. It is the least allergenic milk and has the best taste since it is naturally sweeter.
However, rice milk is a high-calorie alternative with very little protein and fat content. Its high amount of carbohydrates may be harmful to those with diabetes and not desirable if you are on a diet.
What to choose: cow milk or plant milk?
According to Harvard Medical School’s research, if you are healthy and used to drinking milk, there is no reason for you to switch to alternatives. Whole milk is one of the best sources of protein, calcium, and other vitamins essential for your body.
There are reduced-fat and skim milk options for those on a diet or concerned about the high-calorie intake.
Some people experience lactose intolerance. In this case, we suggest you consider switching to lactose-free milk. It has the same nutritional value as whole milk but with enzyme lactase added.
If you still want to try plant-based alternatives, remember to carefully read the label. Some of the things to pay attention to are the protein content (should be around 8 grams per glass) and sweeteners’ presence.
The harm of cow milk, as well as the benefits of plant-based milk, is exaggerated, so choose wisely and drink what makes your body feel good.