Moo-ve over, dairy! Cruelty-free milks are taking over!
Between 2009 and 2015, the plant-based milk industry doubled in value and the consumption of cow’s milk dropped by 13%. There are many reasons for this switch, including increased accommodations to the lactose-intolerant community, which makes up 65% of the population, as well as the vegan/plant-based community.
Plant-based milks are now lining grocery store dairy sections and sparking curiosity about the nutritional value they offer. These vegan options are generally composed of nuts, seeds, legumes, or grains. They are made by suspending disintegrated plant material in water and they vary in nutrition according to which plant you choose to milk.
Not all protein is equal. The quality of protein is important to ensure you get all of the essential amino acids, which together, make complete proteins. Animal protein generally contains higher quality protein because it contains more amino acids, however, it is still easy to get all of the necessary amino acids from plants alone.
Soy and pea milk contains the most protein per cup, however, pea milk has fewer carbs and a little more fat. Not all plant-based milks contain fiber, but soy, almond, oat, and coconut do.
The nutritional profiles of plant-based milks are not always consistent because some are sweetened, unsweetened, fortified, or flavored. It is hard to compare plant-based milks because of this wide variety in composition, but below we’ve discussed some of the varieties.
Soy milk has been named the healthiest of all plant-based milks because it has the most balanced nutritional profile. Not only does soy milk contain adequate protein, fat, and carbs in a suggested serving size, but it also contains anticarcinogenic phytonutrients called isoflavones.
Soy milk is the most comparable to cow’s milk because it has a higher protein content. Cow’s milk also contains a variety of micronutrients that are sometimes not found in plant milks, but you can find plant milks that have been fortified with essential nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. Fortified plant milks are marketed as nutritionally equivalent to dairy milk.
Oatly oat milk has the highest calorie content of all of the plant-based milks, but only contains one gram of protein. It also does not contain all of the essential amino acids. Oatly carbohydrate content is pretty high among the plant-based milk kingdom, containing 6.7 carbs per cup. Since this oat-y beverage is low in fat, it is often used as a coffee creamer substitute. Buzzfeed news did a dairy-free milk taste testing and declared Oatly oat milk the victor.
Nut milks contain little protein and other nutrients, because nut milks are often made by grinding up the nuts with water, and then straining the pulp out. For almonds and other nuts, the protein is in the pulp. While this added water gives a low-calorie milk replacement for coffee, baking, drinking, etc., it does not replace the nutrition of cow’s milk. For comparison, a quarter cup of almonds contains 6 grams of protein, and 1 cup of almond milk has only 1 gram. With that being said, almond milk does have more calcium than cow’s milk.
Make some milk!
Plant milks sold at grocery stores may contain added sugars to make them more palatable. If you want to avoid added sugars, or just save some money (making oat milk is the cheapest) and have some fun, you can make your own plant milks!
Make almond milk by blending a cup of almonds with water, salt or other add-ins like cocoa or berries. Blend in some dates and vanilla for added sweetness, and then run it through a nut milk bag, or use a thin dish towel. Oat milk is also very simple to make. This can be done by soaking oats in water, blending them, and then straining.
Nutritional Components of Plant-based Milks
|Milk Type||Calories (kcal)||Protein (g)||Carb (g)||Fat (g)||Fiber (g)|
|Silk Soy Milk||100||8||8||4||1|
|Oatly Oat Milk||193||1||6.7||1.5||0.8|
|So Delicious Coconut Milk||70||0||8||4.5||1|
|Silk Cashew Milk||60||1||9||2.5||0|
|Pacific Original Rice Milk||130||1||27||2||0|
|Ripple Pea Milk||101||8||6||4.5||0|
|Good Karma Flax Milk||24||0||1||2.5||0|
|Living Harvest Hemp Milk||101||2||8||7||0|
Sources: Association of American Universities, Minimalist Baker, National Institute of Health, Tasty, University of Virginia Health System