Milk – is plant milk better than dairy?
Full fat, skimmed, almond, oat, rice and soy, with such a vast array of milk available in the supermarkets, the choice can be daunting. I see so many people swapping over to plant based milk under the belief that plant milk is a healthier choice. The common misconception is that cow’s milk creates inflammation and excess mucous in the body which simply is not true. Dairy is only inflammatory if someone has an allergy to it so before you cut it completely out of your diet make sure that you know what nutrients you need to replace it with. Whilst milk choice is a personal preference it’s important to realise that just because a product says milk on the packaging it does not automatically provide the same nutrients as regular cow’s milk. Cow’s milk provides important nutrients such as protein and essential vitamins and minerals such as calcium, phosphorous, potassium, vitamin A, and B vitamins such as riboflavin.
Cow’s milk Full cream milk is the less processed as it retains all the fat making it also the tastiest and creamiest of all the milks. As a guide full fat milk consists of around 3.8 – 4% fat. Don’t be scared off by the fat content as we need this for many important functions within the body such as satiety, hormone production, a healthy nervous system and the absorption of fat soluble vitamins. If you are not eating processed foods and junk foods which are high in fat, salt and sugar including full fat milk in your diet can be a healthy way to go.
Skimmed milk Skim milk has undergone processing to remove the majority of fat making it the lowest fat milk available. Removing the fat content can make the milk taste more watery and it slightly increases the natural sugar content. Skimmed milk may however contain slightly more protein making it a good alternative for those needing to reduce fat intake or those looking to lose weight.
Lactose free milk Lactose free milk is widely available and is suitable for those people that have difficultly consuming regular milk due to the lactose content. Lactose free milk has had the lactose or natural milk sugar removed making it suitable for those that are lactose intolerant or have difficulty digesting milk.
There is a wide variety of plant milks available so when choosing non-dairy milks be mindful to read the ingredient panel carefully. Many plant milks are highly processed and contain gums, thickeners, sugars, gluten, flavours, salt and preservatives to enhance the flavour and mouth feel of the milk. Look for minimally processed milks that have fewest ingredients e.g. almonds and water. Not all plant milks are high in calcium or protein so when looking at the nutritional panel look for at least 100mg of calcium per 100ml of milk.
Almond Almond milk is becoming a popular non-dairy alternative however many nut milks contain very small amounts of actual nuts, the majority of the milk being mainly water, sugar, thickeners and flavours. There can be as little as 2-3% almonds meaning that the protein content is low, approximately 2-3g of protein per serve compared to aprox 8g of protein per serve of regular milk or soy milk. Almonds tend to be high in calcium and vitamin E however the actual amount of nutrients present in almond milk depends on the brand of almond milk used so always check the ingredient and nutrient panel.
My favourite milk is the unsweetened Nutty Bruce.
Rice Milk Rice milk is often used as a non-dairy alternative, particularly with children as it is often the most palatable. Rice milk contains around 10% rice which significantly increases the carbohydrate content and lowers the protein content compared to regular milk. Rice milk is lower in nutrients making it a less nutritious plant milk alternative. If choosing rice milk look for options that have been fortified with nutrients such as calcium and vitamin B12 to boost the nutrient content.
Oat Milk Oat milk is made up from a mixture of oats and water, containing up to 15% oats. Oat milk tends to be high in carbohydrates (30g per serve) and calories and low in protein with just 2 – 3g per serve. Oat milk does have the benefit of containing a good amount of fibre, particularly beta glucan which is beneficial for heart health but watch out for the added sugars, oils and gums.
Soy milk Soy milk can be a good dairy free option due to its fat and protein content but look for a low sugar soy milk and minimal gums and thickeners. Soy milk tends to contain the highest protein content out of all the plant milks which helps you feel fuller for longer. Out of all the plant milk, soy has the best nutritional profile in comparison to cow’s milk with approximately 8 – 10g of protein and 10g of carbs per serve. My favourite soy milk is Bon Soy.
My advice when it comes to plant milks is to mix it up. Choose the least processed options with the fortified nutrients and mix it up. Rotate your milks to increase variety. I tend to have a mix of regular cows milk, soy and almond or if you have some time on your hands why not try making your own plant milk?