Pros and Cons of Plant-Based Milk

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Have you heard of plant-based milk? If you haven’t, it’s probably because you’ve heard it called by some other name. Some call it non-dairy milk. Others call it alternative milk. Some even call it nut milk or vegan milk. But it’s all the same thing. Plant-based milk a milk substitute which originates from a plant in some shape or form with many pros, but some cons too.

If you currently drink cow’s milk and don’t suffer any intolerances or allergies, then there is no real reason to switch. There is not enough scientific evidence to suggest that plant-based milk is healthier, but it may come down to your dietary choices and ethical reasons. The world is gradually shifting away from dairy products. And as the trend of veganism rises, so does the demand for plant-based milks. Another reason is that people tend to perceive plant-based milks as being healthy. There is a variety of these milks too. And they are all quite distinct from each other.

Plant-based milk is generally made from grinding a substance like a grain, a bean or a nut. Then water is added, in addition to flavours, vitamins and minerals, and sometimes sweeteners. The consistency of the drink depends on the amount of water added. Commercial plant-based milk products are all made differently, according to the individual manufacturer’s recipe. It’s the responsibility of the purchaser to read the manufacturer’s label and ensure that they’re getting the right nutrients for their individual circumstances.

What are the Pros and Cons of Plant-based Milk?

Pros of Plant-based milkCons of Plant-based Milk
Milk alternative for people with milk protein allergy or lactose intoleranceSome may cause gastrointestinal disturbances or allergies
Taking a supplement can make up for lack of nutrientsMay lack nutrients and most are low in protein
Alternative milk option for vegansCan be unpleasant in taste
Kinder on the environment and animalsCan be more expensive
Pros and cons of plant-based milk compared to cow’s milk

Let’s look at some of these pros and cons of plant-based milk in more detail:

Allergies and Intolerances

If you have an intolerance to milk protein or lactose (the sugar found in milk) then a plant-based milk is a good option for you. A lactose or milk protein intolerance can cause symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating or gassiness (1). Some people may suffer from a milk allergy which may cause anaphylaxis, leading to breathing difficulties. In this case, avoiding ‘animal’ milk is best, and a plant-based option offers a good alternative.

However, some people may have an intolerance or allergy to the main component of plant-based milk. This, of course, will differ from milk to milk. For example, soy milk is a no-go for anyone with a soy allergy. It can cause symptoms such as an upset stomach, breathing difficulties or skin reaction. Almond, cashew or any other nut milk will be problematic for anyone with a nut allergy. Fortunately, there are other options such as oat, rice or coconut milk to choose from.

Nutrients in Plant-based Milk

There’s a lot of hype around the idea that plant-based milk is healthier than cow’s milk or other animal milk (2). While plant-based milk is a good substitute for allergy or intolerance sufferers, it is not necessarily healthier. Both types of milk offer benefits while having a downside too.

Cow’s milk is rich in calcium, phosphorous and contains eight times the amount of protein. For every cup (250ml) cow’s milk there is 8 grams of protein compared to 1 gram in Almond milk. Most plant-based milks are low in protein, with the exception of soy milk which matches the protein of cow’s milk. Naturally, most plant-based milks are very low in protein and low in calcium and other nutrients. But many have been fortified with extra nutrients, and if you don’t mind consuming additives, then, by all means, drink away. On the plus side, plant-based milk is much lower in saturated fat which is better for your cholesterol and heart health.

If the milk you choose is low in vitamins and minerals, you can always make up for this by supplementing or including more nutrient-dense foods in your daily intake.

Plant-based Milk is Kinder on the Environment and Animals

Maybe you aren’t concerned about drinking plant-based milk for its proclaimed health benefits. But you do share a concern for the environment and animals. The most proven benefit of drinking plant-based milk is the impact on the environment. Even if you are not a vegan, you can still make an impact on the environment by consuming less animal products. The dairy industry takes up a massive amount of land and water. Yet the amount of food it produces doesn’t match up to that. If we look at the number of resources it takes to raise cattle, we notice that it takes almost one thousand gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk.

In recent times, people have been made aware of some of the more questionable practices of the dairy industry. It’s thought by a lot of people that cattle in the dairy industry are treated with great cruelty. Don’t be fooled by the happy looking cow or chicken on the front packaging. Many have abandoned eating animal products as a form of protest. This protest often includes dairy products as well as meat. For vegans, who refuse to eat all animals products, plant-based milk is a necessary part of their diet.

List of Plant-Based Milks

If you have decided that plant-based milk is right for you, how do you know which one to pick? There are so many different types on the market and so many varieties of each type. From different nut milks, to grains or beans, it is hard to choose.

Something to be aware of when choosing a milk, is to look at the ingredients list. Some are made with very little additives, and others are ram-packed with them. Also compare the name to the ingredients. Although many almond milks are made using almonds, a large percentage of it could be rice milk. More expensive options tend to be ones that are ‘authentic” so to speak. Apart from that, it really comes down to the flavour, sweetness and flavour. You can also opt to make your own of many of these plant-based milks from home, without all the unnecessary additives.

Soy Milk

Soy milk is probably the most authentic substitute for dairy milk. Various scientific studies prove that it’s as good a source of protein as dairy milk. This makes it a good choice for children and the elderly as a dairy milk substitute. Some complain that it has a ‘beany’ taste. Some people are, unfortunately, allergic to soy. But for vegans who don’t have an allergy to it and who have limited protein options, it’s a great alternative. It can come in different flavours such as chocolate.

Almond Milk

Almond milk has been found to be great for slimmers who have other sources of protein. If unsweetened, it contains only 30 calories per cup and one gram of carbohydrates. The downside is it only has one gram of protein, so having other foods rich in protein is a must. It can come in a sweetened or unsweetened form and sometimes flavours such as chocolate.

Rice Milk

Rice milk is a great choice for athletes and active people who are allergic to soy or nuts. It goes beautifully with smoothies or with cereals and oatmeal. It’s low in fat, but also low in protein. It has a slightly sweet taste and creamy and slightly grainy texture.

Oat Milk

Oat Milk is a great choice for consumers with allergies. But in case of gluten intolerance, make sure it’s made from gluten-free oats. It also contains a soluble fibre called beta-glucans, which is said to be beneficial for the heart. Many commercial oat milk brands contain gluten. Oat milk can, however, be made at home. Just ensure your oats a certified gluten-free if you have a gluten-intolerance.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is the non-dairy alternative in a great many cooking and baking recipes. It offers richness without the addition of animal fat. Try it in soup, cream sauces, puddings and ice cream.

Cashew Milk

Cashew milk provides a low-calorie alternative to those who are watching their weight. In this respect, it’s similar to almond milk. It comes in a sweetened and unsweetened version. Also, don’t depend on this for protein, and make sure you’re getting that from other sources

Peanut Milk

Peanut milk is preferred by many people. But it should be noted that peanuts are high in Omega-6 fatty acids and too many of these can throw out the balance of your Omega 6:3 ratio. If this is your choice of milk substitute, be sure to also consume Omega-3 foods like algae, chai or linseed, or mackerel, sardines and salmon for non-vegetarians.

Hemp Milk

Hemp milk causes very few allergies. Although it doesn’t contain very high protein levels, it provides a complete suite of types of protein. For the soy intolerant vegan, this is a great choice.

Pea Protein Milk

With ten grams of protein per cup, this plant-based milk is a better protein source than any dairy or other plant-based milk. It’s a great dairy milk substitute, however, it is not common to find mixed up in stores. You may need to buy this in a powder form to make up at home.

The Final Word

Plant-based milk is a great alternative to dairy milk for people with allergies, intolerances or for ethical and dietary reasons. Although there is limited evidence to support health claims of plant-based milk versus cow’s milk, it doesn’t mean that plant-based milk is not a healthy option. With endless choices in milks available, there is something for everyone in the dairy and plant-based world of milk.