As the trend for following a plant-based diet continues, more people may now be trying out dairy-free alternatives to cow’s milk.
However, although these plant-based milks are often touted as being healthy alternatives to milk, little research has been done to compare the benefits and drawbacks of each.
A new study from McGill University in Montreal has now looked at the four most-commonly consumed types of plant-based milk drinks — almond milk, soy milk, rice milk and coconut milk — and compared their nutritional values to those of cow’s milk.
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They found that after cow’s milk, which is still the most nutritious, soy milk was the “clear winner.” They also published a roundup of the pros and cons of each, summarized here.
- A wholesome, complete food, providing all major nutrients like fat, carbohydrates and proteins.
- Also provides beneficial anti-microbial effects, with a previous study showing that in infants, consumption of cow’s milk can considerably reduce risk of fever and respiratory infections.
- However, milk allergy is one of the most common allergies among infants and children, affecting 2.2-3.5% of children, an even greater percentage than those who are affected by peanuts and tree nut allergies. The good news is 35% of infants outgrow being allergic to milk by the age of 5-6, and this may increase to 80% by age 16.
- Cow’s milk is also not a good option for those who are lactose intolerance (due to the absence or deficiency of the enzyme lactase in the digestive tract), which affects somewhere between 15-75% of all adults depending on race, food habits and gut health.
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- Soy milk has been a substitute for cow’s milk for four decades and had the most balanced nutritional profile of the four milks included in the study.
- It is also widely consumed for the health benefits offered from the phytonutrients present in the milk. Known as isoflavones, these phytonutrients have anti-carcinogenic properties which can help prevent or delay cancer.
- However, some dislike the ‘beany flavor’ and there is concern about the presence of anti-nutrients (substances that reduce nutrient intake and digestion).
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- As well as being lactose-free, rice milk can also be a good alternative for patients with allergy issues caused by soybeans and almonds.
- Its sweet taste makes it more palatable.
- However it contains relatively little nutrition and there are also concerns about the high carbohydrate count.
- The consumption of rice milk without proper care can also result in malnutrition, especially in infants.
- Consumption can help reduce levels of harmful low-density lipoproteins (bad cholesterol) that are associated with cardiovascular diseases.
- It contains few calories, but most of them are from fat.
- It also contains no protein, and nutritional values are reduced if stored for over 2 months.
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- Almonds have a high content of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) that are considered helpful in weight loss and weight management.
- MUFA also helps in reduction of low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol).
- However, other complementary sources of food are needed to provide other essential nutrients.
The full findings can be found published online in the Journal of Food Science and Technology.