With so many plant-based alternatives to cows’ milk on the market, how do the health benefits stack up? We investigate…
Most of us have cows’ milk in the fridge, but with the alternatives available today, it’s no longer just vegans or those with an intolerance trying something different. For many, it’s a positive lifestyle choice.
“Cows’ milk is cheap, nutritious, and a valuable source of protein, calcium, B vitamins and iodine,” explains dietician Dr Carrie Ruxton.
“Fat-free and low-fat milk are lower in kilojoules and fat and higher in calcium, but have less of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E,” she adds.
Organic milk tends to be higher in omega-3 fatty acids, and is less likely to contain antibiotics and pesticides.
Dairy allergies are rare in adults, but an estimated 11% of us have an intolerance to it.
“Some people lack the enzyme lactase, which allows them to digest the lactose (sugar) in dairy,” says Carrie. This means they have an intolerance to dairy. Goats’ milk is an option for them, as it has less lactose and smaller fat particles.
You may have an allergy or be vegan. Or maybe you prefer to avoid dairy for other reasons.
“Even if you still favour cows’ milk, dietary diversity can be a good idea,” suggests nutritionist Rob Hobson. Most alternatives can be used as a cows’ milk substitute in recipes, but you may prefer certain ones to drink in tea and coffee, or to have with cereal.
Always check the label for unwanted additives, especially sugar. “If you regularly drink cows’ milk, pick an alternative fortified with the same nutrients,” continues Rob.
Soya comes closest in protein content to cows’ milk. It also provides potassium, and is lower in kilojoules and sugars. The creamy, nutty taste is good in cooking, with cereals, and in coffee. It can also be a useful addition to your diet during perimenopause.
Almond & nut milks
Unsweetened almond milk is a blend of almonds and water; it’s low in fat and only has about 70kJ per 100ml. Calcium, magnesium and vitamin E are also present, but many brands are fortified with calcium, vitamin D and B12.
The subtle, sweetish taste makes it good in smoothies and with cereal. Nut milks are available to buy, or you can make your own: blend one part nuts (soaked and blanched) with four parts water.
Rice & oat milks
Both are higher in kilojoules than other plant-based milks, but low in saturated fat.
“They’re fortified with calcium and vitamins, but as they taste bland, they’re often sweetened, so check their labels,” advises Carrie. “Oat milk is creamier, and has heart-healthy benefits,” she adds.
“Not to be confused with the creamy milk used in Asian cooking, this thinner version is made from pressed coconut with added calcium,” says Rob. It’s lower in kilojoules and protein, and higher in saturated fat than other plant-based kinds. It’s also ideal for smoothies.
Average at-a-glance nutrition, per 100ml**
By Hannah Ebelthite