Plant-based Milks: Which is Best for You and the Planet?

How far the world of plant-based milks has come in the last few years! Instead of limited options, those who opt to avoid dairy have a plethora of possible choices to indulge in. Each one of us will have our own personal favourite, or maybe you have a few – such as loving almond milk on your activated buckinis or salivating over the coconut milk in your vegetable curry. But did you know that plant-based milks are vastly different from each other in terms of nutritional value, calcium levels, vitamins and minerals? And they don’t just vary in terms of their health benefits, they also differ in terms of their impact on the environment.

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I’ve organised a table below to help you to better understand the benefits and draw-backs of some common plant-based milks. Though some are evidently more nutritious and eco-friendly than the others, that does not mean you have to only stick with one plant-based milk; each might serve a different purpose on your culinary missions.

 

Comparison of Plant-based Milks

Pros Cons
Soy milk
  • High in protein
  • Good source of potassium and phytoestrogen

 

  • Soybean farming causes environmental destruction
  • Often genetically modified
  • Soy oestrogens can affect hormone levels
Coconut milk
  • Creamy
  • Low in sugar, yet has a sweet taste
  • Contains lauric acid which boosts the immune system
  • High in good fats
  • Packed with vitamins: C, E, B1, B3, B5 and B6
  • Contains many minerals: Iron, selenium, sodium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorous
  • Low in protein and calcium
  • High in fat, though these are the good kind that can be easily metabolised
Almond milk
  • High in calcium, vitamin E and protein
  • High in manganese, selenium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, fibre, and phosphorous
  • Low in saturated fat
  • Quite a significant amount of water is needed to grow almonds, which are often sourced from California (however, you could make your own using locally grown almonds)
Oat milk
  • High in calcium, protein, folic acid, vitamin E and phytochemicals
  • Low in saturated fat and cholesterol free
  • Contains gluten (not suitable for those with celiac disease)
Rice milk
  • Hypo-allergenic properties, suitable for those with IBS or sensitive stomachs
  • Low in protein and calcium
  • High in sugar

It is important to note that while the production of these milks has varying impacts on the environment, they all do significantly less damage than their cow’s milk counterpart.

For optimal health benefits, always buy the unsweetened variety of your chosen plant-based milk. It is also a good idea if purchasing, rather than making, a plant-based milk to buy one that is fortified with B12. B12 is the only vitamin that is not obtainable through a vegan diet. Other methods of consuming this important vitamin are by adding nutritional yeast to meals (which provides a lovely cheesy flavour) or by taking B12 supplements. And if you purchase or make a plant-based milk that is low in calcium, you might want to look into the many other ways that calcium can be obtained through a vegan diet.

 


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