The Benefits of Plant-Based Milk Alternatives
by Rosanne Lombard, RD (SA)
Join Food Lover’s Market in celebrating #WorldPlantMilkDay on 22 August! We’re exploring more about plant-based milk alternatives with information from Joburg based registered dietitians, Nutritional Solutions. Food Lover’s Market offers many plant based milks, including Almond Breeze, Earth & Co, Good Hope MA, Health Connection and our house brand coconut milk.
With the rising trend of plant-based eating, milk alternatives, also called plant-based beverages, are filling up our supermarket shelves. Many people choose to use these beverages as because of lifestyle and dietary choices like allergies to cow’s milk protein, lactose intolerance, vegetarianism and veganism, or even just to follow the latest health trend.
What Are Plant-Based Milk Alternatives?
Any beverage made from nuts, cereals, seeds, pseudo-cereals and legumes and serves the purpose of replacing cow’s milk in the diet is called a plant-based beverage. Soy milk, coconut milk, rice milk, oat milk and almond milk are common examples. Since referred to as “milk”, it’s a common misconception that these beverages are equal in nutritional value to cow’s milk. However, the truth is only milk that comes from a mammal, such as cow, goat or buffalo, can be truly referred to as milk and it’s preferred that these milk alternatives are rather called plant-based beverages.
Plant-based for the Win
For vegans and vegetarians, milk alternatives serve a great purpose in improving the quality of life by accommodating the dietary restriction to avoid animal products. It also offers those who are lactose-intolerant or have a cow’s milk protein allergy that need suitable dairy-free alternatives. The lower energy (kilojoule) content of most of these milks means that it could be beneficial for those that are watching their weight. Coconut milk is an expectation though that has almost double the energy of cow’s milk. Furthermore, replacing animal protein sources with plant-based alternatives may possibly lower overall inflammation and oxidative stress in the body.
Another benefit is the lower environmental impact. After red meat, dairy is the second biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, making plant-based alternatives better for a more sustainable for the environment in the long run.
Being Practical with Plant-based Beverages
Interestingly, the nutritional values of the various options vary greatly. While cow’s milk can be swapped for plant-based beverages, the alternatives are, nutritionally speaking, not comparative to cow’s milk and many fall short of nutrients like protein, calcium, and vitamin D. For this reason, it’s important to make informed decisions when deciding on your plant-based beverage of choice.
- You may need to take a calcium supplement to support the removal of calcium-rich cow’s milk from the diet. Plant-based beverages are naturally low in calcium, so some brands are fortified with added calcium.
- Like calcium, vitamin D may also be low in these beverages. Expose your arms and legs for 15 minutes, three times per week (during mid-day hours) to sunlight. Fish, eggs and mushrooms are also food sources of vitamin D.
- It is common for sugar to be added to improve the taste, quickly adding unwanted energy to the beverage. Try to choose unsweetened versions.
- Many plant-based beverages are low in protein, expect for soy milk. Be sure to get protein from other sources such egg, fish, skinless chicken, lean red meat, and legumes like beans, chickpeas and lentils.
- Hruby, A. & Jacques, P.F. 2019. Dietary Protein and Changes in Biomarkers of Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort. Nutritional Epidemiology and Public Health.
- Sethi, S., Tyagi, S.K. & Anurag, R.K. 2016. Plant-based milk alternatives an emerging segment of functional beverages: a review. Journal of Food Science Technology. 53 (9): 3408-3423.
- National Institute for Health. 2018. Vitamin D: Fact Sheet For Health Professionals. Accessed on 18 May 2018. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/list-all/
- rediscoverdairy.co.za – Are plant-based beverages as good as cow’s milk? 2017. An Initiative by the Consumer Education Project of Milk SA.
- The British Dietetics Association: One Blue Dot. Eating patterns for health and environmental sustainability. A reference guide for dietitians. 2018.
- Francois Mariotti. (2017). Vegetarian and Plant-based Diets in Health and Disease Prevention. Academic Press, Elsevier.