With veganism growing in popularity, and people seeking to make healthier food choices, plant-based milk is readily available more than ever. As of this year, this type of milk accounts for 14% of the total sales of all milk bought commercially. With so many plant-based milks to choose from, and the unstoppable growth of veganism, which is the healthiest?
What Is The Most Popular Plant Milk?
There’s a huge range of plant-based milk available such as hemp, pea, rice, hazelnut, cashew, and even macadamia. These days it appears that most nuts and sometimes even vegetables can be a milk alternative! But not all of these milks have taken off in the market, some have emerged as winners dominating their respective niches. For example:
- Used in China for centuries to make tofu, Soy milk is one of the original dairy alternatives. For the longest time, plant milk was synonymous with plant milk.
- By 2013 however, almond milk quickly overtook soy milk and became the de facto plant-based milk
- Coconut milk which had always been popular in cooking recently began to make a name for itself as a popular addition in coffee.
- Oat milk, especially Oatly also growing in popularity met even more success after the rebrand where they launched a barista edition. This was a great move as they launched a non-dairy milk that did not “curdle” in coffee and could froth as cow’s milk did in lattes.
What’s the Difference Between Plant Milk And Animal Milk?
Plant milk is milk made from a base of water and a nut, seed, or legume of choice. They are often white or creamy in color like animal milk but can take on a wide array of colors. Unlike cow milk, the flavors vary, affected not only by the seed or nut used to make the milk but also the brand.
In the EU, plant milks cannot legally refer to themselves as milks. With the exception of coconut milk, plant-based milks cannot market themselves as milks. However, EU soy milk is no different from US soy milk, the only thing that had to change was the advertising and branding.
Which plant milk tastes the closest to cow’s milk?
If you are on a quest to find the plant-based milk that tastes like cow’s milk, you will be disappointed. If you are looking for an alternative because you are lactose intolerant, but otherwise love the taste of cow’s milk, you will have better luck going lactose-free or finding another animal milk that is easier to digest. But if you don't mind searching, and encountering some duds along the way, plant milk provides another alternative because unlike animal milk, the choices are endless.
When it comes to texture and versatility, soy and oat milk will come closer to what you come to expect from cow’s milk. Both of these plant-based milks are naturally white and creamy and have mild flavors, which go unnoticed in coffee or cereal.
Almond milk tends to be very thin, so it does not provide the same creamy mouth feel. If you add it to your coffee, you find it waters down the beverage without the creaminess you expect. Adding it to your cereal will feel similar, but almond milk pairs very nicely with smoothies as it has a slightly nutty taste. Coconut milk is heavy and tastes coconutty which is what makes coconut lattes pleasant, but it’s not as popular in regular teas, coffees, or in cereal -- unless you like everything with a hint of coconut.
Nutritional Profiles of the Most Popular Plant-Based Milk
Nutritionally, soy milk is nutritionally similar to cow’s milk, and here is why:
- One cup of soy milk contains 100 calories compared to a cup of cow’s milk which contains 125 calories.
- Soy milk has 7 grams of protein whereas cow’s milk contains 8.5 grams.
- Soy milk is actually a better source of iron than cow’s milk as it contains 5.9% of the RDA compared to the 0.7% of the RDA of iron in cow’s milk.
- Cow’s milk contains 24% of the RDA of calcium, and soy milk is only 1% short with 23% of the RDA.
- The only area soy milk falls short is with vitamin 0 as it contains 0% of the RDA, while a cup of cow’s milk will provide 4.1%.
Almond milk contains little calories in comparison with only 56 calories in a cup of almond milk and also falls short when it comes to protein, vitamin, and mineral content. One cup of almond milk only has 1.1 grams of protein and will provide 1.6% of the RDA of calcium, 1.1% of the RDA of iron, and 0% of the daily requirement of vitamin A and vitamin C.
The calorie content of oat milk is closer to cow’s milk with 130 calories in one cup, but it can also lack the other nutrients found in a cup of soy or cow’s milk. 1 cup of oat milk contains only 2 grams of protein, 1.1% of the RDA of calcium, 3.6% of the RDA of iron, and 0% of the RDA of vitamin A and vitamin C.
Many plant milk brands fortify their products so while oat milk or almond milk may start off lacking vitamins and minerals, many store-bought variations can still be nutrient-dense.
Coconut milk is a good source of iron, with one cup meeting 41% of the RDA, but the high-calorie content may be a turn off as there are 445 calories in one cup of coconut milk. it also has less calcium and protein, and vitamin C.
Making A Plant-Based Milk From Scratch At Home
A lot of the concern with store-bought plant milk is the presence of emulsifiers and preservatives which keep the ingredients from separating. For those who wish to eat as naturally as possible, you can make your own plant milk. Making plant milk usually requires the following steps:
- Soaking the nuts or legumes
- Adding natural sweeteners and other additional flavorings such as vanilla pods and citrus
- Blending the mix with water
- Straining the mix, separating the husk from the milk.
Which plant milk has the most calcium?
Calcium is a big factor in determining which plant milk is the healthiest, this is because cow’s milk is one of the main sources for calcium in the average person diet. Soy milk is also the plant milk that has the most calcium naturally, however, most brands will their plant-based milk with calcium. As long as you check the ingredients, oat, coconut, or almond milk can also be a source of calcium in your diet. However, when it comes to making your own plant milk, soy milk can be a better option than homemade oat or almond milk.
Which plant milk has the most protein?
When comparing plant milk, soy milk has the most protein. What is even more interesting, is that the protein is structurally the most similar to animal-based proteins. Soy and quinoa are the only plant-based “complete” proteins. This means that they contain all 9 essential amino acids. There are 20 amino acids in total, but our bodies can make 11 of them which means that the remaining 8 needs to be consumed in our diets. Those switching to plant milk that is not soy can mix and match their plant-based protein sources to ensure they’re consuming all the required amino acids.
Does soy milk really give men boobs?
Soy has a bad reputation. The claims that soy milk can increase breast size, cause men to grow breast tissue, or alter hormones are all unfounded. Soybeans contain isoflavones which act as phyroestrogen, the plant version of estrogen. Unlike the estrogen produced in humans, this has a much weaker effect on the body and unlikely to encourage breast growth. Additionally, other foods such as flax seeds and peaches also contain phytoestrogen. Dairy products also contain estrogen. Most soy is genetically modified as the majority of the world’s soy crops are actually fed to livestock, and not to humans. Organic soy milk is available for those who would like to avoid GMO foods.
So, which plant milk is the healthiest?
Soy milk is arguably the healthiest plant milk. Soy milk is nutritionally the closest milk to cow’s milk in terms of calcium, protein, and vitamin content. The fact that it has a decent amount of iron gives it an advantage over other plant milk, especially as it can be difficult to consume enough iron on a vegan diet.
That said, many plant-based milks are fortified with enough vitamins and minerals to rival soy milk. As soy is an allergen, many people will opt to reduce their intake of soy milk and tofu, as they can use other plant milk. Plant-based milk can be nuanced, it is not unheard of to use oat milk for tea and coffee, and then use soy or almond for everything else.
When choosing plant-based milk, the most important thing is to check the ingredients for added vitamins and minerals and try to avoid sweetened versions, which can add empty calories to your diet.