The Low-Down On Different Milks And Plant-Based Alternatives

milk alternatives

With all the conflicting evidence and marketing out there, it’s hard not to drive yourself crazy when it comes to choosing the correct milk for you.

To help clear up some of the confusion, we have provided you with the nutritional low-down to help you make your choice.

The most important thing to acknowledge, is that there is no wrong choice. At the end of the day, it comes down to your individual taste, ethical and health preferences. For the sake of this blog, we will be solely commenting on the nutritional differences.

Cow’s milk
Cow’s milk is a great source of protein, amino acids, vitamins and also fatty acids. Full-cream or full fat milk has a rich and creamy texture due to the fat content. Research indicates that drinking full fat milk may result in you feeling fuller for longer due to the higher fatty acid and total energy content.

Skim milk, however, contains the exact same nutrients as full-cream milk does, the only difference is, the fat content has been extracted. It is a common concern that skim milk has added sugar, to make up for the taste from the fat being removed. However, both full fat and skim milk have a similar sugar and protein content. The sugar found in milk is naturally occurring in the form of lactose. Skim milk also contains a slightly higher calcium content however, without the additional fat component, you’ll absorb less of the fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D and E.

Verdict:
Choose the option that suits you best! Drink skim milk if you like the taste and are including healthy fats in your diet from other sources such as fish, eggs, avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oils. Drink full-cream if you prefer a creamier texture and are struggling to get adequate fats into your diet. It’s important to keep in mind that full fat milk has a higher saturated fat content than skim milk. Therefore, this is something to consider if you are obtaining saturated fat from others sources (e.g. animal protein) or have elevated cholesterol levels.

 

Nut milk
You’d think that most nut milks would be made predominantly of nuts right? Just the same as cow’s milk is made from the milk of the cow. Wrong! So many brands out there fill their products with excess sugar, thickeners, emulsifiers and gums. Consequently, most almond milks end up containing only 3% of actual almonds. Why? Who knows! Nut milk can be so delicious when made with nuts and flavoured with other wholefood ingredients such as sea salt, vanilla bean and cinnamon. 

Check out our recipe for a DIY almond milk.

All nut milks are lactose-free and are a great alternative for those sensitive or intolerant to milk proteins. Almond milk isn’t as high in protein and calcium compared to cow’s milk, so aim for a calcium fortified brand or acquire your calcium through other foods. 

Avoid the following ingredients where possible: 
Emulsifiers (e.g. sunflower lecithin), carrageenan’s, vegetable gums, vegetable oil (e.g. sunflower oil) 

Verdict:
Opt for a nut milk if you’re intolerant or sensitive to lactose or if you simply just like the taste and are achieving your calcium requirements through other sources such as cheese, yoghurt, sesame seeds, sardines, salmon and dark green leafy veggies. 

Oat milk 
Oat milk’s health benefits are linked with dietary fibres such as B-glucan which assists with balancing blood sugar levels, increasing satiety and keeping you regular. However, oat milk contains almost no protein or calcium. Therefore, if choosing to enjoy oat milk, opt for one that has been calcium fortified. 

Rice milk 
Rice milk is generally made from just rice and water. However, some brands feel the need to add vegetable oils, emulsifiers and preservatives. It is a useful alternative for those with multiple allergies / intolerances as it is lactose-free, soy-free and also nut-free. It’s higher in carbohydrates than other milks and has very minute amounts of protein, calcium and fat. If you do opt for rice milk, look for one with added calcium and ensure you’re getting enough protein from other sources in the rest of your diet. 

Soy milk
Made from soybeans and water, soy milk is common choice amongst those intolerant or allergic to milk proteins and lactose. It contains a high protein content, similar to that of cow’s milk which is why it has been used as a substitute for dairy milk for decades. However, from my clinical experience I have found that some people with thyroid disease or any hormonal issues, don’t seem to do so well on soy milk. Like all things, this is of course very individual. 

What to look for: GMO free, free of vegetable oils, sugar, vegetable gums and food acids. Aim for calcium fortified where possible. 

The low down
At the end of the day, your overall diet matters more than one food or drink you choose to consume. If you are making the switch from cows milk to plant-based alternatives It’s important to make sure that you’re actually consuming enough calcium and also protein in your diet. 

You can find plenty more informative articles, nutrition guides and also get access to a nutritionist in your pocket with the JSHealth App. You can download the app on iTunes.

References:

  1. Miciński J, Kowalski I, Zwierzchowski G, Szarek J, Pierożyński B, Zabłocka E. Characteristics of cow’s milk proteins including allergenic properties and methods for its reduction. Polish Annals of Medicine. 2013;20(1):69-76.
  2. Haug A, Høstmark A, Harstad O. Bovine milk in human nutrition – a review. Lipids in Health and Disease. 2007;6(1):25.
  3. Dougkas A, Reynolds C, Givens I, Elwood P, Minihane A. Associations between dairy consumption and body weight: a review of the evidence and underlying mechanisms. Nutrition Research Reviews. 2011;24(01):72-95.
  4. Kavezade S, Mozaffari-Khosravi H, Aflatoonian M, Asemi M, Mehrabani S, Salehi-Abargouei A. The effects of whole milk compared to skim milk and apple juice consumption in breakfast on appetite and energy intake in obese children: a three-way randomized crossover clinical trial. BMC Nutrition. 2018;4(1).
  5. Sethi S, Tyagi S, Anurag R. Plant-based milk alternatives an emerging segment of functional beverages: a review. Journal of Food Science and Technology. 2016;53(9):3408-3423.
  6. Vanga S, Raghavan V. How well do plant based alternatives fare nutritionally compared to cow’s milk?. Journal of Food Science and Technology. 2017;55(1):10-20.
  7. Rizzo G, Baroni L. Soy, Soy Foods and Their Role in Vegetarian Diets. Nutrients. 2018;10(1):43.
Previous Post8 Ways With Tinned Legumes
Next PostPumpkin, Ricotta & Tomato Tart

SIGN UP TO MY WEEKLY NEWSLETTER