Gone are the days when the most difficult decision you had to make in the dairy aisle was whether to buy low-fat or whole milk. You will now find dairy-like drinks made from ingredients you never knew could be “milked” – almonds, oats, corn, and peas, to name a few.
Although cow’s milk continues to be the most common in terms of retail sales, non-dairy alternatives are gaining traction. Soaking the legume, nut, grain, or other main ingredient, then pressing and straining the liquid, or “milk,” is how these plant-based alternatives are usually produced.
Many people like them because they don’t want or need to consume dairy, but others say they are better than cow’s milk. However, some experts advise customers to look beyond the marketing hysteria and check the nutrition label of such items, as some may not be as safe as they seem.
Are plant-based milks beneficial to my health?
This will vary depending on the type of plant milk you consume, whether it is fortified, the amount of added sugars it contains, and how it integrates into your overall diet. Even if the drink is white and has the same smooth appearance as cow’s milk, you can not presume that it contains the same nutrients. And some of the sweetened varieties have more sugar added than a doughnut.
According to Melissa Majumdar, a spokesperson for the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “in general, these non-dairy milks have been marketed as healthier, and that is not always the case.” Cow’s milk is naturally high in protein, calcium, potassium, and B vitamins, and is often fortified with vitamin A (found in whole milk) and vitamin D. Many plant-based milks are fortified with many of the same nutrients as cow’s milk, but not all are.
According to Jackie Haven, deputy administrator for the US Department of Agriculture’s Centre for Nutrition Policy and Promotion: “Some don’t have enough of those essential nutrients like protein, potassium, or vitamin D.” “In most cases, these drinks do not contain all of the nutrients needed to substitute dairy foods.”