Sales of plant milk as a healthier, more eco-friendly alternative to dairy milk have recently increased, providing an industry boost of around £400 million annually.
But this week, Professor Ian Givens, director of the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health at the University of Reading, warned that they may not be as good for us as we have been led to believe.
Young women in particular are often depriving themselves of vital nutrients like iron, calcium, iodine and even protein by turning to cow’s milk as a substitute, he said.
Professor Givens said, ‘There have been cases where young children were turned to these products and developed a kind of protein deficiency that you cannot expect in Western society.
Experts compare the nutritional value of animal and plant-based products—like Mighty Peas M.lk (pictured)
Although plant-based milks are often fortified with nutrients such as calcium, there is no legal requirement for manufacturers to do so – and research has shown that the naturally occurring calcium in cow’s milk is vital for the strong body. Couldn’t be easier to absorb as. ,
Prof Givens called for a better comparison between animal-based and plant-based products in terms of their nutritional value as well as their carbon emissions. So how does milk compare? We asked the experts. , ,
It became popular in the US over the past decade and was sold by Whole Foods and Sainsbury’s in 2019. Pea protein is extracted from soaked yellow peas, which are mixed with water and sunflower oil.
Taste: Rich and ‘little chocolate’.
nutritional content: Mighty Pea M.lk (hollandandbarrett.com, £1.56) contains 1.9g fat per 100ml, 0.7g carbohydrate, 3.2g protein and 186mg fortified calcium.
Manufacturers claim: ‘Sugar-free and 50 percent more calcium than cow’s milk,’ says Mighty P.
Expert’s verdict: Harley Street nutritionist David Starr says the added calcium won’t necessarily be of benefit. ‘Calcium is most efficiently absorbed in small doses – a large amount will go straight through you.’
Pea milks are complete proteins, meaning they contain all of the essential amino acids, as do dairy and soy milks, says nutritionist Francesca Lancaster. ‘But it is no replacement for protein in the diet from sources such as chicken, eggs and beans.’
Nutritionist Francesca Lancaster said soy provides a good protein equivalent to dairy, although soybeans contain compounds that can cause mood swings if consumed in large amounts.
The original plant-based milk substitute, believed to have originated in 14th-century China, soy milk is made by soaking and grinding soy beans, boiling the mixture, and filtering out the residue.
Taste: Mild and sweet.
Nutritional Content: TIt is most similar in nutritional value to dairy milk, Alpro’s Soy Chilled Drink (tesco.com, £1.50) has 4g protein per 100ml (compared to 3.5g per 100ml in full-fat dairy), 2g fat ( Dairy has 3.7g), 120mg calcium (dairy has 124mg) and 5 grams of carbohydrates (dairy has 4.7g).
Manufacturers claim: Alpro says its drink is “free of artificial colours, flavors and preservatives” and tastes great.
Expert’s verdict: ‘Soy provides a good protein equivalent to dairy,’ says Francesca, but adds: ‘Soybeans contain compounds called isoflavones that combine with receptors in the body to weaken estrogen activity. If consumed in large amounts, it can potentially cause mood swings and weight gain. Research is inconsistent on how much hormone-disrupting soy milk can be, so I tend to drink it in moderation.’
Soybeans have also been found to inhibit the production of thyroid hormones. An underactive thyroid gland can cause fatigue and depression.
Francesca states that oat milk’s high sugar content compared to other plant-based milks is not due to dairy milk, but to balance the protein and fat in dairy.
Developed by Swedish scientist Ricard Oste in the 1990s, oat milk recently overtook soy as the best-selling plant-based milk. The oats are ground, then added to hot water and ground into a slurry, which is heated to thicken, mixed, and filtered.
Taste: greater rough texture; Tastes like cow’s milk.
nutritional content: Oatly Oat Drink Whole (ocado.com, £1.40) contains 2.8g fat, 6.6g carbohydrate, 1g protein and 120mg fortified calcium per 100ml.
Manufacturers claim: “Consumers are showing they prefer the taste and functionality of oat milk over most plant-based alternatives,” says Björn Oste, co-founder of Oatly.
Expert’s verdict: ‘The high sugar content of oat milk – in the form of carbohydrates – is not much higher than that of dairy milk compared to other plant-based milks, but dairy does contain protein and fat,’ says Francesca. Essentially just water and carbs, they can spike blood sugar levels, leading to fatigue, headaches and food cravings.’
Harley Street nutritionist David Starr said that even with six percent almonds, Plenish’s version of the almond drink (pictured) contains about a third the protein of cow’s milk.
Produced in California since the 19th century. Soak almonds in water and grind them before filtering the pulp.
Taste: Nutty, watery.
nutritional content: Planish Organic 6% Almond Dairy Free Drink (Sainsbury’s, £1.50) contains 3.1g fat, 0.4g carbohydrate and 1.3g protein per 100ml.
Manufacturers claim: ‘Each glass is packed with protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals to give you energy, make your skin glow and help protect heart health.’
Expert’s verdict: ‘It’s more like water than milk,’ says David. Even with six percent almonds, the Planish version contains about a third the protein of cow’s milk, which, David says, ‘can cause muscle wasting and hormonal disruptions, resulting in menstrual cycles. There may be problems around.
David said rice milk is one of the better choices because it is high in carbohydrates – the brain’s fuel source.
The first rice milk factory was built in California in 1921. The grains are pressed through a grinding mill, which is filtered and mixed with water.
Taste: Watery and sweet. Oil can be added for a more creamy consistency.
nutritional content: Alpro Rice Original Drink (ocado.com, £1.45) contains 12 percent rice and contains 1 g of fat per 100 ml, 9.5 g of carbohydrates, 0.1 g of protein and 120 mg of fortified calcium.
Manufacturers claim: Alpro says its rice milk is ‘easy to digest’ and ‘naturally low in fat’.
Expert’s verdict: ‘One of the better choices because it’s high in carbohydrates – the brain’s fuel source,’ says David. ‘But fat is also an essential nutrient, and a method of carrying vitamins, which rice milk lacks.’ And as with all plant-based milk fortified with calcium, ‘it will pass through your body quickly without the protein in cow’s milk’, he says.
David says many clients come to him with calcium and vitamin D deficiencies when their families switch to dairy-free milk: ‘They are at risk of osteoporosis.’
David said he’s concerned about the lack of protein in products like Morrison’s Coconut Drink (pictured).
Used in Asian cooking for centuries, coconut milk has only become fashionable in the past decade as a substitute for cow’s milk. The ‘flesh’ of the coconut is grated and heated to extract the milky liquid, sometimes with water added.
Taste: Creamy, sweet.
nutritional content: The only milk that contains as much saturated fat as cow’s milk, Morrison’s Coconut Drink (1l, £1) is enriched with vitamins B12, D2 and calcium, and contains 0.3g protein, 120mg calcium and 2g carbohydrate.
Manufacturers claim: ‘Fresh delicious.’
Francesca said that the amount of protein in potato milk is very low.
Expert’s verdict: ‘It’s good for satiety,’ says Francesca, although David is concerned about its popularity among people who follow a high-fat, zero-sugar diet: ‘My main concern is a lack of protein.’
Potato milk, launched by Swedish brand Doug last year, which is currently available online, will be stocked at Waitrose from next month. Potatoes are heated and emulsified with rapeseed oil. Milk contains six percent potato, as well as pea protein and chicory fiber.
Taste: Called a ‘salt taste’.
nutritional content: Per 100 ml contains 1.5 g fat, 4.4 g carbohydrate, 1.3 g protein, 120 mg calcium. Also fortified with vitamins D and B, and folic acid.
Manufacturers claim: ‘The most sustainable option.’
Expert’s verdict: ‘The protein content is still very low,’ says Francesca, while David adds: ‘Although its consistency will be strong, cow’s milk contains nutrients that may be difficult to obtain elsewhere.’