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The Nutritionist Guide to Plant-Based Milks

November 17, 2022

Let’s take a look at what to consider when looking at the nutritional value of plant-based milk.

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Let’s take a look at the main things to consider when looking at the nutritional value of plant-based milk:⁠


Protein Content

One serve (250ml) of cow milk yields 8.5g of protein. So let’s see how the plant-based milk stacks up:

  • Soy Milk – 8.2g protein per serve
  • Macadamia Milk – 0.8g protein per serve
  • Coconut Milk – 0.5g protein per serve

Added protein plant-based milk can contain up to 10g protein per serve, but studies show plant-based options may not provide all the essential amino acids compared to dairy options (1).

Calcium Content

One of the main nutrients of concern if you’re swapping dairy for a plant-based variety is calcium. And yes, you totally can get your calcium from other non-dairy sources like green leafy veg, almonds and chia seeds, but your recommended calcium intake is 1,000mg per day (2) and you need to ensure you’re meeting this if you eliminate dairy.

The good news is you can get calcium-fortified plant-based milk. Look for ones with 200-300mg of calcium per serve (250ml) in the nutritional panel on the back. The Vitasoy and Pure Harvest brands are good options for ideal calcium content.

Sugar Content

The type of plant-based milk that you opt for is really important, as they differ greatly in terms of their sugar and carbohydrate content.

Unsweetened varieties are always the best option, and in terms of sugar and carbohydrate content, nut milk like almond and macadamia milk are the front runners.

  • Almond Milk – 0.3g sugar per serve 0.8g carbohydrates per serve
  • Oat Milk – 2.8g sugar per serve 15.8g carbohydrates per serve
  • Rice Milk – 14.5g sugar per serve 20g carbohydrates per serve (3)

Additives

Emulsifiers, stabilisers and acidity regulators… oh my! Additives are used for various reasons; to make the milk taste better, to bind the ingredients and to keep the product shelf-stable. Some of the common ones to avoid: carrageenan, vegetable oils, ‘natural flavours’, and added sugars. Pure Harvest is a great brand with minimal additives. Cafe and barista blends tend to have more additives in order for the milk to foam better for baristas.

Some disclaimers on what this post isn’t:⁠

1. This isn’t an endorsement to ditch dairy. I wanted to give a snapshot of plant-based milk as many clients are choosing these options, and I want to empower them to make their best choice. I personally consume cow milk with coffee, and use plant-based options in smoothies, cooking etc.⁠

2. This isn’t a comprehensive review of all plant-based milk options out there. Unfortunately, that’s way too much to fit into a single blog post. If this area interests you, the studies listed in the references are a good read and provide much more data and detail on this topic. I’ve tried to use the most common plant-based milk in Australia, found in @coles and @woolworths.⁠ If you want more of my shopping tips, you can check out these blog posts.

3. This isn’t the last word on plant-based milk. There is so much going on in this space and there’s much more to discuss than just what’s in this blog post. I’d expect things to change quickly in this space, especially when it comes to nutrient fortification. ⁠

References

(1) Nutritional information from www.soy.com.au and www.woolworths.com.au Milks compared are Vitasoty Unsweetened Soy Milk, Suncoast Gold Macadamia Milk, Vitasoty Unsweetened Coconut Milk and Dairy Farmers Full Cream Milk.

(2) National Health and Medical Research Council. (2014). Calcium [Nutrient Page]. https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/calcium

(3) Nutritional information from www.soy.com.au. Milks compared are Vitasoty Unsweetened Almond Milk, Vitasoty Unsweetened Oat Milk, Vitasoty Unsweetened Rice Milk

(4) Chalupa-Krebzdak, S., Long, C. J., & Bohrer, B. M. (2018). Nutrient density and nutritional value of milk and plant-based milk alternatives. International Dairy Journal, 87, 84–92. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.idairyj.2018.07.018

(5) Reyes-Jurado, et al. (2021). Plant-Based Milk Alternatives: Types, Processes, Benefits, and Characteristics. Food Reviews International, 0(0), 1–32. https://doi.org/10.1080/87559129.2021.1952421

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