The Buzz / Wellness

The Buzz: Plant-Based Milks

Different types of non-dairy milk

What’s the buzz?

Dairy is mooooving over for plant-based milks in many people’s diets.

What does the science say?

The days of soy milk as the only cow’s milk alternative are gone — today’s grocery store shelves are filled with a myriad of plant-based milk options such as almond, cashew, coconut, hemp, flax, oat, rice, and pea. From meeting the needs of people with allergies and intolerances to those with personal health and environmental preferences, the explosion in the dairy alternative aisle fills a long-awaited niche. But before you trade in your trusty 2% for almond or pea milk, there are a few things to consider.

Nutritionally, the difference between cow’s milk and each alternative varies widely. One cup of cow’s milk contains 8 grams of protein, is rich in calcium, and provides vitamins A, D, and B12 as well as other nutrients. Many plant-based milks are fortified with some vitamins and minerals, but if you’re counting on your milk to provide these nutrients, you’ll want to double check the label. Protein content is where things start to stray significantly, ranging from as little as 1 gram for the average nut milk to up to 8 grams for soy milk. New “high protein” milks have entered the scene —  often fortified with pea protein, but watch out for long ingredient lists with additives and thickeners (read more about a common thickener, carrageenan). Which brings us to an important ingredient to watch out for: added sugar. (Gasp!) Many plant milks are sweetened, elevating both the sugar and calorie content. So, choose unsweetened versions when possible.

Plant-based milks can offer a unique flavor to cooking, act as a great base for a smoothie, and create that creaminess you crave without dairy, if you prefer to avoid dairy.

What’s the takeaway?

Plant-based milks are not nutritionally a one-for-one swap with cow’s milk. However, it’s possible to get all of the nutrients found in cow’s milk in other foods, so plant-based milks can be a great alternative for your morning cereal, coffee, or as a base in a smoothie. Choose your plant-based milks wisely and enjoy the occasional almond latte or coconut-milk macchiato!

Read more about the nutrition pros and cons of your favorite plant-based milks.