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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?

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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.”

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