Navigate to the refrigeration section of a grocery store and you will find a variety of milk products ranging from non-dairy to dairy and whole to plant-based milk, with assorted brands presenting varying benefits. With all these choices, you may start to question the nutritional value of alternative milk compared to traditional. You may also be wondering if one is better for the environment than another and which option is best for you. Before purchasing different options, it’s important to understand more about plant-based milk including why some choose milk alternatives, the pros and cons of alternative milk, and the nutritional value.
Keep reading to learn more about plant-based milk!
Why Some Choose Milk Alternatives
Like many alternative milk brands and options that exist at the grocery store, there are reasons for switching to plant-based milk. Plant-based and vegan diets are continuing to rise in popularity because of the countless positive nutritional aspects. This means more consumers are moving away from dairy products altogether and toward alternative options.
On the other hand, some may have lactose intolerance or milk allergy that could lead to uncomfortable reactions or even life-threatening situations when consuming traditional milk. Other consumers may have a food sensitivity to an ingredient in milk that could lead to inflammatory symptoms. Replacing dairy with alternatives will eliminate this issue.
Furthermore, with law changes that require food producers to display ingredients and Internet food science gurus launching articles around the use of pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics in the dairy industry, consumers are more educated than ever. As a result, you may be seeking organic milk or plant-based alternatives. Finally, some choose to switch to alternatives to reach personal dietary objectives, like increased protein or reduced saturated fat and calories. Regardless of the reasons, it’s critical to understand the pros and cons of milk alternatives, along with the nutritional value of each option.
Pros of Plant-Based Milk
One major concern amongst those looking to switch to a plant-based alternative is the level of vitamin D and calcium in the liquid to match traditional cow’s milk. Vitamin D and calcium are critical nutrients to ensure the proper growth and development of your bones. In a study conducted by the International Dairy Journal, researchers found that most plant milk had higher calcium levels than cow’s milk in the form of calcium carbonate, which has an equivalent absorption level to cow’s milk.
Another benefit to milk alternatives is the caloric content is significantly lower than traditional milk. Therefore, for those looking to lose weight, this is a great option. To compare, a single cup of unsweetened almond milk has 30-45 calories, and a cup of whole milk has over triple the calories. An additional benefit of plant-based milk is the variety of available consistencies and flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, and unsweetened. This variety can be consumed by drinking or adding to cooking recipes. Thinner milk, like cashew and almond, are excellent for overnight oats and cereal, while richer variants like soy or coconut milk are a great homemade ice cream option.
Finally, consuming fewer dairy products delivers excellent environmental benefits. Studies show that producing a single cup of dairy milk results in three times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions compared to a plant-based alternative. Also, producing a cup of dairy milk each day for a year requires 10 times the amount of land compared to the same amount of oat milk.
Cons of Plant-Based Milk
Selecting alternative milk options offers countless benefits from health, consumption, and environmental aspects with few cons. One of the biggest downsides to plant-based milk is most options on the market have low or are void of protein. Since consuming adequate protein is a requirement for good health, if you’re considering eliminating dairy from your diet, it’s critical to ensure you are receiving protein from other sources. Many count on milk as part of a well-rounded diet, especially when consuming cereal. However, if you’re substituting traditional milk with a low protein option, then you want to consider sprinkling nuts or hemp seeds on top.
Another consideration is to ensure your plant-based milk is fortified with calcium and vitamin D to support healthy bones. If your milk alternative of choice does not contain this important nutrient, then you must find healthy bone supplements. Any additional drawback is the lengthy ingredient list, which includes sweeteners and thickeners. For those with inflammatory bowel disease or other food sensitivities, these additives can result in inflammation. Finally, most plant-based milk alternatives are more expensive than traditional milk, so it’s important to factor the cost into your grocery budget.
Alternative Milk Nutritional Value Comparison
To compare the nutritional values of traditional versus alternative milk, see below:
- Whole cow’s milk – 1 cup = 146 calories, 276 mg calcium, 8 g total fat, 8 g protein
- Almond milk – 1 cup = 30 calories, 450 mg calcium, 3 g total fat, 1 g protein
- Pea milk – 1 cup = 90 calories, 465 mg calcium, 5 g total fat, 8 g protein
- Rice milk – 1 cup = 120 calories, 300 mg calcium, 3 g total fat, 1 g protein
- Oat milk – 1 cup = 130 calories, 370 mg calcium, 5 g total fat, 4 g protein
- Soy milk – 1 cup = 110 calories, 450 mg calcium, 5 g total fat, 8 g protein
- Unsweetened Coconut milk – 1 cup = 40 calories, 460 mg calcium, 4 g total fat, 0 g protein
Each of these is an excellent low-calorie, low-fat alternative to whole cow’s milk. However, you may notice that the majority also have low protein, except for pea and soy milk. Therefore, if you wish to switch to almond, rice, oat, or coconut milk, it’s critical to back up each cup with a protein supplement.
Before deciding, which will greatly impact your diet, it’s critical to understand the pros and cons of switching to plant-based milk, regardless of the reason. With so many available options, you want to ensure you’re choosing the right plant or nut, while receiving the proper amount of nutrients.
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