Baristas now have cartons of oat, almond and soy milks ready for your order. So which do you choose if you’d like to ditch full-cream dairy for any of these?
[Information for this post was sourced from Sophie Aubrey’s article ‘Plant-based milks: which one is better for you and the planet?’, Sun Herald, June 6, 2021].
Good (old) dairy
One of the best sources of Vitamins A and D, zinc and calcium vital for bone health. But it’s higher in saturated fat than plant-based milk, so reduced fat dairy milk is an option.
Sophie Aubrey’s article didn’t mention goat’s milk – but I’ve heard good reports about it. My research in WebMd and Healthline found that 65% to 72% of all dairy consumed worldwide is in fact goat’s milk. It’s creamier and easier to digest than cow, soy or nut milks, and is a good source of calcium, potassium and vitamin A. Importantly, it also has higher, more easily digestible protein (9g) in a single cup serving. Those intolerant to cow’s milk may find that goat’s milk doesn’t trigger allergies, and is lower in lactose when cultured into yoghurt. (However, it’s best to check with your doctor if you’re allergic to lactose.)
It’s low in kilojoules and saturated fat, but has very little protein. If you look at the labels, some products contain as little as 2% almonds! Look out for sugars as some are sweetened. Buy almond milk that is calcium-fortified and has added vitamins. I say – make it yourself – all you need are raw almonds, water and a blender!
The oldest plant-based milk on the market and the most popular. A 2017 study found soy was nutritionally the best alternative to cow’s milk when compared with almond, rice and coconut.
Sophie Aubrey cites dietician Jane Freeman who ranks soy milk as “the better of the dairy-free options” – and recommends we only consume milk made with Australian soybeans.
It contains similar protein levels to cow’s milk with much less saturated fat. Look for the organic brands (with no-GMO soybeans) that’s fortified with calcium and vitamins, and avoid any added sugars.
It’s now overtaking soy milk in the US to become the second-biggest plant-based milk. It’s low in saturated fat and the only milk to contain fibre which can help lower cholesterol. (I hope you’re now having rolled oats for breakfast instead of processed breakfast cereals!)
Freeman says it has slightly higher protein than almond milk, but it’s still low. Unsweetened oat milk has 50% more carbohydrates than dairy. Look for brands fortified with calcium and vitamins.
Freeman doesn’t “rate rice milk highly”, and says the only benefit is that it’s lowest in allergens.
This is made from milled brown rice blended with water, with almost no saturated fat. It’s very low in protein, has the highest carbohydrates (more than double the amount of dairy), with a high glycaemic (GI) index – meaning it can cause blood sugar spikes. Again, it’s best to buy calcium fortified brands.
It’s generally not liked with coffee, and it’s the last of the current plant-based milks on offer. Comprising flesh of the coconut and water, it’s perhaps best for only the “odd smoothie rather than as a daily staple”, according to Freeman. It has less saturated fat than full-fat dairy, but double that of low-fat dairy – far more than any of the other plant-based varieties. But it’s very low in protein and naturally low in carbohydrates; some brands add sugar to it.
It’s important to know that plant-based milks are processed foods: their nutritional value depends on the formulation methods and the extent to which additional nutrients are added. The vast majority of products on the market contain a variety of thickeners and gums to create a creamier texture.
What do I drink?
Full-fat dairy – but only half a cup with my cappuccino and with my 2 daily cups of tea. Rather than dairy or plant-based milks with my oats, I have nutritious kefir yoghurt, with its abundance of probiotics. Some brands of kefir like the one at left include prebiotics like inulin.
I get my calcium and protein from cheese, raw vegetables, eggs, fish and moderate amounts of red meat and chicken.