Up until recent years, you could really only find one or two different types of soy milk stocked in your local supermarket. These days, plant-based milks almost have their own aisle, with countless new types coming out every few months. And sure they may be dairy free, but are they actually even good for you? Read on to find my professional thoughts on plant-based milks...
1) In your opinion, what should people be aware of if they decide to go dairy free?
First of all people need to figure out why they are going dairy free. If it’s because of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), for example, the individual may need to investigate further intolerances, such as high FODMAP foods. Next it’s important to consider the nutrients you’re going to be missing out on by going dairy free, and in turn ensure that these are replaced with other nutritious substitutes. Naturally most plant milk alternatives (e.g. coconut, oat, almond) are low in calcium. It is therefore essential to choose the calcium-fortified versions of these alternatives. In regard to yoghurt, it is one of the best naturally occurring probiotic foods out there, and so, if it’s going to be avoided with the rest of dairy, make sure to include probiotic rich alternatives like sauerkraut, kimchi and tempeh.
Here's a list of calcium rich plant-foods.
2) What are your thoughts on the nutritional value of the following cow's milk alternatives?
This creamy nut milk has a higher percentage of healthy fats compared to most other plant milks. Unlike soy milk, its protein content is very low, and unless fortified, it doesn’t contain much calcium.
Unlike it’s pre-processed nuts, almond milk is low in calcium, protein and fibre, and although it’s low in calories, it can really only boast nutritional benefits if it has been calcium fortified.
Soy milk has a protein, calcium and calorie content similar to cow's milk. It is available in full-fat and low-fat versions. It also offers a creamy texture similar to cows milk.
Oats contain beta-glucan, a type of soluble fibre that can contribute to improved cholesterol levels and improve heart health. Unless fortified, oat milks are very low in calcium. Unlike some of the other plant-milks, oat milk is often a good alternative for those with a number of food allergies.
Rice milk is rich in carbohydrates, containing more than 3 teaspoons of sugar per serve. It has a high glycemic index, is very low in protein and contains only small amounts of fats. Unless fortified, it contains little calcium and is basically a carbohydrate rich liquid.
Coconut milk is high in saturated fats, the type that increase your unhealthy cholesterol. Compared to other plant milk alternatives, it falls short on the recommendation list.
Most pea milks are rich in calcium and protein, as well as have a lot less sugar than other plant milks (e.g. rice and almond milks). Again, this milk alternative is really only a good source of calcium if it has been fortified.
If you're choosing a plant-based milk, ensure that it has been fortified with calcium. Look for a brand that contains at least 100mg of calcium per 100ml. Of the different plant-based milks out their, soy milk rates the best nutritionally, followed by oat and pea.