Go Nuts

5 September 2017 - By Graham Eyre

Which plant-based milk alternative is best?

It’s the only plant-based milk that contains a complete protein profile. It contains vitamins B2 and B12, vitamin D and potassium and is also low in fat. From an athlete’s perspective, soya milk is dairy milk’s closest relation.

Like most foods these days there is some concern over exactly how healthy and environmentally friendly soya really is but I’ll leave you to Google that and make your own decisions.

Almond milk?
Almond milk (the unsweetened version in particular) is low in calories, naturally low in fat and contains the important vitamins B2, B12 and D. But, like other nut milks, it has allergenic properties and is not nearly as nutritious as consuming whole nuts. Check labels though, depending on the brand, almonds make up only 2% of the ingredients of some products

Coconut milk?
Unlike other plant milks, coconut milk (we’re talking the watered down version in the alternative milk aisle, not the stuff in cans) contains saturated fat, about the same amount as whole milk. It also has very little protein. It does taste good though and is a great addition to smoothies in particular.

Rice or oat milk?
If you’re after more calories, you might want to give rice or oat milk a try.

Oat milk naturally contains more B vitamins than soya and coconut milk and is a good option for people who have multiple allergies. But it may contain gluten depending on the manufacturing method.

Be aware though that oat milk is low in protein and other vitamins and minerals, so you’ll need to ensure you opt for a fortified version. Likewise, rice milk contains very little protein, but it does contain the most amount of carbohydrate per cup and is the least likely of all of milk products to cause allergies.

While rice milk can be fortified with calcium and vitamin D, it’s not a natural source of either and you may want to explore what nutritionists say about rice, rice milk and levels of inorganic arsenic.

Of course, other plant-based drinks are available…..too many to cover here.

Other things to consider when choosing your plant-based milk.

So points to consider on plant-based alternatives to cow’s milk.
Most of the plant-based milks are beefed up with thickeners, sweeteners and stabilisers to improve the consistency, flavour and to prolong the shelf life. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, but there has been some controversy over Carrageenan (E407) – which is derived from red seaweed and used as a thickener and stabiliser in a variety of processed foods – due to possible links with digestive problems, so it’s a good idea to read the label if you’re particularly concerned about that.

And, maybe not a deal breaker but plant-based alternatives to cow’s milk are often considerably more expensive, though it’s worth checking out the new supermarket own brands as they tend to be much cheaper.

You may notice whilst wandering around my local supermarket a bewildering amount of plant-based alternatives to cow’s milk. Dairy marketeers are catching on. Milk with extra protein anyone? Or how about Kefir (pronounced ‘kuh-FEAR’), which is made by fermenting milk with a mixture of beneficial yeast and bacteria. The result is cultured milk that has little if any lactose, some carbonation, a tangy taste and a hint of alcohol. New products are appearing all the time so it’s always worth a look next time you’re walking down the (milk) aisle.

So, it seems that cow’s milk comes out on top in terms of its nutritional properties and, if you’re an athlete, research suggests that cow’s milk supplemented with carbohydrate will help optimise your recovery.

There are no significant differences between organic milk and conventional milk in terms of quality, safety and nutrition, though some studies suggest that organic milk may be higher in omega-3 fatty acids which are linked with improved heart health. But, if you have any concerns about environmental and animal welfare issues, it may be worth paying the extra to go organic.

But, if cow’s milk doesn’t agree with you (or you don’t agree with it) there are plenty of plant-based alternatives for you (and even a few other options like Goat’s milk and a2TM milk that we have not touched on). But it’s undoubtedly better for you to choose unsweetened versions that have been fortified with vitamins and minerals and, if you’re in any doubt, read the ingredient and nutrition labels.

Like most things in life, one size does not fit all so you pay your money and take your choice. At the end of the day what you choose of depends on your needs and personal preferences.


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