Hey Angels and Alphas,
If you head over to your local grocery store and look at the dairy aisle, you’ll see that there are just as many nutritional plant-based cheeses, milks, creamers, butters, yogurts, and other plant-based varieties to traditional cow’s milk. And they’re certainly growing in popularity across the globe – growth in the plant-based dairy industry has jumped by 55 percent in the last two years. But is it really healthier for you if you ditch the moo?
First off, let’s dig into what these plant-based milks are made of. The ingredients subbed inside non-dairy alternatives will depend on which product you choose. For instance, non-dairy yogurt might use coconut, oat milk, or almond as a base, as well as various gums to get the perfect texture.
On top of this are added puree and probiotics. A non-dairy milk might use various oils such as safflower, canola, or coconut. Plant-based butters might also be made up of a blend of vegetable oils, as well as other ingredients that add the right texture and color.
There are several reasons why you might feel like you need to turn to plant-based dairy. One could be a lactose intolerance, allergy to milk, following a vegan lifestyle, or other ethical concerns. There could be a variety of health reasons, too.
While the number one reason to consume cow’s milk dairy or go for plant-based options is an entirely personal one, know that they’re not really a nutritionally identical swap.
For example, let’s compare cow’s milk with some non-dairy alternatives. You’ll find about 8 grams of protein in every cup of cow’s milk, but you’ll find just 1 gram of protein in the majority of almond or rice milk brands (and no protein in coconut milk.) Soy milk and its protein content are the most comparable to cow’s milk with 7 grams of protein. And let’s not forget that not all milk alternatives are going to be fortified with calcium and vitamin D, which is the duo that’s important for bone health.
Overall, you should always check which brand you’re buying and compare the different labels to see how yours will stack up. Not only that but read the ingredients to know what you’re really getting. Some of them will include added oils, sugar, and salt. Many of them will be packed with added sugars which are going to increase their taste. Many dairy versions will be rich in sugar. That’s why it’s very important to compare the labels and buy one that aligns with your goals.
SHOULD YOU CONSUME DAIRY THEN?
What if you still enjoy traditional dairy and your body is able to tolerate lactose just fine. Is there really any point to giving it up in favor of plant-based dairy? Not necessarily. In reality, there may be no actual reason to fear dairy (or eat its alternatives if you usually prefer cow’s milk).
One meta-analysis of three independent studies which total more than 217,000 participants concluded that consuming up to 2 servings of dairy per day was associated with extremely low mortality rates from cardiovascular disease. However, the authors found replacing dairy with nuts or whole grains could lower the risk of mortality even further.
An even more recent meta review of 41 meta-analyses in 2021 in Nutrition & Metabolism concluded that consuming about 1 cup of milk per day was linked to a minimized risk of heart disease, hypertension, colorectal cancer, obesity, and even osteoporosis.
But there’s a downside. This same study also found an enlarged risk of prostate cancer, acne, and Parkinson’s disease. Whether or not you make the decision to switch in the name of your health will depend largely on your personal health history.
THE BOTTOM LINE IS…
Whether or not you’re someone who chooses plant-based dairy over cow’s milk dairy is an entirely personal decision driven by a variety of factors which including taste preferences, health problems, ethical concerns, or lactose intolerance.
For those of you who make that switch, carefully scan all the nutrition and ingredients label and compare the protein, calcium, vitamin D, fat, and sugar content between the different brands of choice, then choose one that makes the most sense for your dietary goals.