In the past few years, you’ve probably noticed the rise of plant-based milk alternatives like almond milk and oat milk. Veganism and vegetarianism have become more popular, and many people have embraced these dairy-free options for health and ethical reasons.
The UK saw a fourfold increase in vegans from 2014 to 2019, while the US witnessed a massive rise in vegan consumers, jumping from 1% in 2014 to 6% in 2017.
People are genuinely curious about the potential health benefits of plant-based diets, and they’re also considering the environmental and ethical impact of animal agriculture.
A recent study has debunked the belief that plant-based milk alternatives are super nutritious. In fact, traditional dairy might actually have the upper hand when it comes to health.
While people are convinced about the health perks of plant-based milk, it turns out that some of those claims weren’t quite accurate. Plus, there are concerns about the overall nutritional value of these alternatives compared to traditional dairy, per new research.
A Look into Plant-based Milk Compared to Dairy
Plant-based milk alternatives are all the rage, with one in three people now reaching for options like soy, oats, and almonds, according to market research. But a comprehensive analysis by University of Minnesota researchers revealed that nearly 90% of these plant-based milks fall short on important nutrients compared to cow’s milk.
The study conducted in the University of Minnesota scrutinized 237 plant-based milks from 23 different manufacturers, and the results were eye-opening. Most of these alternatives lacked crucial nutrients like protein, vitamin D, and calcium, which are abundant in traditional dairy. Only 12% of the plant-based options could truly match the nutritional value of cow’s milk.
Dr. Abigail Johnson, from the University of Minnesota, issued a warning to consumers, stressing the importance of checking for calcium and vitamin D in plant-based milk labels. “Our results provide evidence that many plant-based milk alternatives are not nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk. Consumers should look for plant-based milk alternative products that list calcium and vitamin D as ingredients. They may also want to consider adding other sources of calcium and vitamin D to their diets.”
The study also finds 76% of oat milk, 69% of soy milk, and 66% of almond-based milk were fortified with calcium and vitamin D. However, only a measly 16% of the alternatives studied could match or beat the 8 grams of protein per 240 milliliters found in cow’s milk.
Sure, some plant-based milks were fortified with these nutrients, but a mere 16% of the ones examined had the same protein content as cow’s milk.
While soy and pea-based alternatives tend to have higher protein levels, it’s still essential for consumers to be aware of these nutritional gaps when choosing their milk substitutes. The researchers plan to dig deeper and explore other nutrients present in plant-based milks that might not be found in traditional dairy—like dietary fiber.
The bottom line?
You can still enjoy a well-balanced diet with plant-based milk, but it requires a little more attention to ensure you’re getting all the essential nutrients. Keeping an eye on labels, considering fortified options, and incorporating a variety of foods into your diet can help bridge the gap.
The findings were presented at a recent nutrition conference, shedding new light on the plant-based diet conversation. As the popularity of plant-based eating rises, educating consumers about the nutritional content of their food choices becomes increasingly important.
Plant-based milks might be more sustainable and animal-friendly, it’s important to prioritize the importance of keeping our diets nutritionally balanced. Plants have their merits, but sometimes our body needs a little extra boost from high-quality animal sources to thrive in the long run.