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Ask Tufts Experts September 2018 Issue

Q. Are plant-based “milks” equivalent to dairy? How do I know what to choose?

© Aamulya | Getty Images

Plant-based milks are not nutritionally equivalent to dairy, nor to each other.

A. “More and more plant-based ‘milks’ are joining the dairy aisle, but consumers should be aware that the nutrient profiles of plant-based products are often quite different than that of their animal-based counterparts,” says Shuhan Zhan, a dietetic intern at Tufts Medical Center.

“Plant-based alternatives are made by grinding beans, grains, or nuts, and adding water and other additives. The amount of added water, vitamins, minerals, and sugar determines the nutrient profile of the specific product. Calcium and vitamin D contents are typically similar between plant-based and animal-based products after fortification, but fat, protein and carbohydrate content vary depending on the type of plant-based product.”

“In general, animal-based options have higher protein content than their plant-based counterparts. For example, one cup of animal-based milk on average contains eight grams of protein, compared to six grams in soymilk and around one gram in almond or coconut milk. Additionally, animal-based products are denser in essential amino acids, which are protein building-blocks that cannot be made in the human body.”

“On average, unsweetened calcium-fortified soymilk is the most nutritionally equivalent to animal-based dairy products, so it can be a good alternative. The nutrient content of plant-based dairy counterparts can vary significantly based on their brands, manufactures, and flavors. It is important to read the Nutrition Facts label and ingredient list to look for added sugars and other additives.”

Comments (3)

Can the non-dairy milks be used as equivalents in recipes?

Posted by: Offthcuff | June 11, 2019 9:48 AM    Report this comment

There are other reasons for drinking plant based milk!

Posted by: | June 11, 2019 10:33 AM    Report this comment

Good advice. I've used soy milk for over 50 years. Milk causes allergy problems for me. I've found a brand I like best. It is called Eden Soy. It has no added sugar and has 12 g of protein per serving. It also tastes great. Soy is a high quality protein, just as high as cow's milk. That's why it is used in many infant formulas. It has a very low glycemic index unlike rice milk or most other grain milks. Soy milk has the advantage over milk in that it is cholesterol free and low in saturated fat, and high in essential polyunsaturated fats including alpha-lenoleic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid. For these reasons it is a good food for preventing both diabetes and heart disease. Most other plant milks can't claim these advantages. The only nutrient lacking is B12 which I take as a supplement daily because I'm over 50 and don't absorb B12 as well any more anyway. I never recommend almond milk (as good as almonds are) or rice milk because of their low protein intake.

Posted by: | June 11, 2019 5:40 PM    Report this comment

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