The number of individuals who prefer nondairy, plant-based alternatives to cow’s milk continues to be growing. So, how nutritionally do these different milks compare?
Research from 2018 says eating and consuming cow-derived milk has declined, and interest in alternative milks is growing.
Several of the different types of herbal milk products include:
Some of the key medical reasons people prefer plant-based dairy foods is to prevent signs of lactose intolerance or an allergy to the cow’s protein.
Doctors report that in children under 3 years of age the prevalence of this allergy is 2 to 5 percent. In adults the rate is lower.
Some people may also prefer plant-based dairy products because they believe they are more natural, ethical, or safer alternatives than cow’s dairy.
In this post, from a health perspective we take a look at the pros and cons of drinking almond, cow, hemp, oat and soy milk.
Almond milk is one of North America, the European Union and Australia’s most commonly consumed forms of plant-based milk. Researchers have proposed that almond milk is an important substitute for children and adults suffering from allergies or milk intolerances.
The almond milk contains less saturated fat and more unsaturated fats relative to cow’s milk. The good fats found in almond milk will help people lose weight and hold them off.
Almond milk is low in calories and protein, which may not suit everyone, especially children.
People who don’t want to lose weight will need to add additional calorie sources, and choose healthier protein sources, such as beans and fish, to meet their daily needs.
Some manufacturers add calcium to the almond milk to make the nutritional quality of cow’s milk more comparable. People may not be able to absorb as much of this calcium as they can from food, so they should be sure to eat plenty of other sources of calcium, including dark green vegetables.
Almond milk comes in flavored forms. Many of these items added sugar to increase the shelf life and enhance the texture and taste.
When humans add almond milk to hot drinks, they may find separate milk.
Compared with cow’s milk, unflavored hemp drinks are often small in calories and calcium. However, hemp drinks contain more protein than almond milk.
Hemp milk doesn’t differentiate in hot drinks, so people can add it to their tea and coffee.
Because of its earthy taste and chalky texture some people do not like homemade hemp milk. Varieties purchased in store have additional ingredients that help mask the taste and texture.
Oat milk has a moderate, creamy taste that makes it perfect for cereals, hot beverages and alone beverages.
Oat milk, along with soy milk, contains more riboflavin, or vitamin B-2, than cow milk. Many manufacturers add additional vitamins and minerals to oat milk to boost the drink’s nutritional value.
Soy milk is the most popular replacement for cow’s milk and the first plant-based alternative that has emerged on the US market.
The American Dietary Guidelines 2015–2020 recommend that lactose intolerant people drink fortified soy drinks as an alternative to cow’s milk.
When people equate soy milk with almond, hemp, and oat milk, this alternative to milk has the highest protein content per serving.
As with many other types of vegetable-based milk, soy milk producers also add calcium and vitamin D.
Varieties of plant-based milk have high levels of phytate and oxalate which are compounds which can inhibit calcium absorption. According to the 2019 study in the journal Nutrients, soy milk studies show that, given the existence of these compounds, calcium absorption was close to that of cow’s milk if it was reinforced with calcium carbonate by the manufacturers.
Although soy milk has more protein than other plant-based milk products, cow milk has higher levels of the essential amino acids methionine, valine, leucine, and lysine.
The body does not produce enough amino acids, so people need to make sure their diet includes enough of these.
Plant-based sources of amino acids include:
- soy milk and soy products
- peanut butter
People often eat soy milk, since it has isoflavones, which researchers say has anticancer effect.
Some people do not like the soy milk taste. Manufacturers also incorporate certain flavours and sugars to disguise the bean-like taste of this drink. People who want their sugar consumption to decrease should be aware of these additions.
Doctors may also recommend that children under the age of 3 with allergy to cow milk protein avoid soy milk, because they may be allergic to soy too.
When growing soybeans farmers use a variety of pesticides, so people who want to avoid pesticides may want to select organic brands.
Many people today prefer plant-based dairy alternatives over cow’s milk. One explanation for this move is growing concern about the health hazards of the dairy intake.
A small number of children and adults suffer from an allergy to the protein from cow milk.
Doctors typically treat infant allergy to the cow milk protein. Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, lip swelling, tongue or throat swelling, stool blood, hives, wheezing, foaming, and inadequate weight gain.
Another explanation people avoid cow’s milk is lactose intolerance. Many that are intolerant of lactose have difficulty digesting the cow’s milk.
Lactose intolerance is a normal phenomenon. Most people, in fact, have a reduced capacity to process milk products after infancy. In East Asia, more than 90 percent of those populations are lactose intolerant.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, nausea, diarrhoea, and stomach pain following milk intake.
In some countries, people have become ill from drinking raw cow’s milk that the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Salmonella spp has contaminated.
Some researchers have indicated that there may be a correlation between the consumption of cow’s milk and the development of acne in adolescents, but further research is needed to validate the assertion.
Several studies have investigated the link between cancer risk and dairy intake. Researchers also found a lower risk of colorectal cancer in individuals who eat a high dairy diet. Calcium may have protective effects on cancer of colorectal origin.
Many studies show contradictory findings and need more study into the risk of lung, prostate, and breast cancer and dairy intake.
Once again, Americans ‘Dietary Guidelines for 2015–2020 suggest that people eat three dairy servings per day to fulfill their calcium needs.
Older 2010 studies showed that lactose-intolerant adults are likely to to tolerate at least 12 grams of lactose, which is the amount in around 1 cup of milk.
People can also find they can eat aged cheeses that are basically lactose-free, and yogurt with active crops that help digestion.
Anyone who develops uncomfortable symptoms after eating lactose should explore alternatives with a doctor.
The following table compares the nutritional values of almond, cow, hemp, oat, and soy milk in grams (g), milligrams (mg), or foreign units (IU) of 240 milliliters (ml) — around 1 cup — to:
|Almond milk||Cow’s milk (whole)||Hemp milk||Oat milk||Soy milk|
|Protein||1.01 g||9 g||3 g||4.01 g||6.0 g|
|Total fat||2.50 g||10.99 g||4.51 g||2.50 g||3.5 g|
|Sugars||0 g||31.01 g||0 g||19.01 g||9.0 g|
|Calcium||451 mg||300 mg||283 mg||350 mg||451 mg|
|Vitamin D||101 IU||0 IU||0 IU||101 IU||120 IU|
It is important to remember that each brand of plant-based milk would have a different nutrient profile. Some beverages are aromatised and can contain more sugar and salt than other brands. Also, some producers add calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, or other nutrients.
The amount of calcium the body consumes primarily depends on the type of food a person eats. In dairy products, the body can consume about 30–32 percent of calcium, and only 20–30 per cent of calcium from plant sources such as almonds.
Some people now drink plant-based nondairy milks and drinks rather than cow’s milk. Replacing cow’s milk with these alternatives can mean finding other sources of protein, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals would need to be sought.
Many brands of plant-based milk beverages would have added vitamins and minerals but the body does not consume all the additional nutrients.
Some plant-based alternative milk products have a higher sugar and salt content than cow’s milk so consumers may want to look for low-salt and non-added-sugar varieties.
People need to be conscious that cow’s milk is not necessarily a substitute for plant-based beverages. Many that normally get calories from cow’s milk and other nutrients should speak to a licensed dietitian to make sure they find suitable alternatives. That is especially important for kids.