Which Plant-Based Milk is Best?

I’ve been on a detox this week, and while TeenVGN is going for an all-out fruit and vegetable fest, I’ve been replacing dairy products with raw, plant-based milk alternatives as well. Why? On top of regular cows milk being high in saturated fat – almost 50% of it is pure fat – it’s something we naturally shouldn’t be drinking either, with lactose intolerance being insanely common – almost 65% of the world’s population have trouble digesting lactose. And due to the way cows are treated both medically and on the majority of farms (I’d recommend watching Food Inc. if you want to know more), it’s another factor that I’m against within the meat industry. All of this led up to me to standing the supermarket, debating which milk alternative is the best in terms of nutrients? So after fervent research, here are my findings:

Almond milk

There’s been quite a fuss about almond milk recently – it’s easy to make at home, contains such a low amount of saturated fat and it also boasts a good amount of calcium as well as vitamins D and E, and other added ones in shop-bought almond milk. However, there is also the question of carrageenan being added to some shop-bought varieties, as well as in coconut milk, a stabiliser coming from red algae or seaweed that may cause digestive problems.

Ingredients: water, almond (2%), calcium (tri-calcium phosphate), sea salt, stabilisers (locust bean gum, gellan gum), emulsifier (sunflower lecithin), vitamins (riboflavin (B2), B12, E, D2)

Nutrition per 100ml:
Energy                14 kcal
Carbohydrate      0.2g
of which sugars   0.1g
Fat                       1.2g
Saturated fat        0.1g
Protein                 0.5g
Salt                      0.13g
Fibre                    0.3g
Calcium              120mg (15% RDA)

Vitamin D            0.75µg (15% RDA)
Vitamin B2          0.21mg (15% RDA)
Vitamin B12        0.38µg (15% RDA)
Vitamin E            1.8mg (15% RDA)

Coconut milk

Coconut milk is great for the paleo diet, but it has a very high fat and especially saturated fat content in comparison to other milk alternatives, but as it comes from coconuts, one of the only plants to product saturated fat, it’s not all bad. Saturated fat from coconuts contains a high amount of lauric acid, which increases high-density lipoprotein, the “good cholesterol”. Nevertheless, it’s recommended you watch your intake of it. Below I’ve looked at Koko’s coconut milk, which contains added calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D, making it a good alternative to cow’s milk.
Ingredients: filtered water, coconut milk (8.4%), grape juice concentrate, calcium phosphate, emulsifier: sucrose ester, thickener: carrageenan, sea salt, vitamin D2, vitamin B12, colour: natural carotene
Nutrition per 100ml:
Energy                 28 kcal
Carbohydrate      2.4g
of which sugars   2.1g
Fat                       1.9g
Saturated fat        1.7g
Protein                 0.3g
Salt                      0.1g
Fibre                    0.5g
Calcium              120mg (15% RDA)
Vitamin D            0.75µg (15% RDA)
Vitamin B12        0.38µg (15% RDA)

Oat milk

In comparison to all of the other milk alternatives except soya, oat milk has an exceptionally high amount of protein. However, this is also true of its carbohydrate and sugar content, but considering it contains only water, oats and a little sea salt, it’s pretty close to perfect in terms of all natural ingredients and even boasts beta-glucans, which help maintain normal blood cholesterol levels. The one part you may have to decide upon is whether you want it organic or not – as Oatly themselves have admitted, their organic version cannot contain added calcium or vitamins, therefore removing its ability to be a true milk alternative.
Ingredients: oat base (water, oats 10%), sea salt
Nutrition per 100ml:
Energy                 35 kcal
Carbohydrate       6.5g
of which sugars   4g
Fat                       0.5g
Saturated fat        0.1g
Protein                1g
Salt                      0.1g
Fibre                    0.8g
Calcium               0mg
Beta-glucans       0.4g (30% RDA)

Rice milk

Organic rice milk also suffers from the same lack of calcium and vitamins as organic oat milk; there is none without having them fortified, therefore removing its organic properties. Furthermore, its exceptionally high carbohydrate and natural sugars content in comparison to the other alternatives, and certain brands, such as Rice Dream, have added sunflower oil too.
Ingredients: water, rice (14%), sunflower oil, sea salt
Nutrition per 100ml:
Energy                 47 kcal
Carbohydrate       9.4g
of which sugars   4.0g
Fat                       1.0g
Saturated fat        0.1g
Protein                 0.1g
Salt                      0.1g
Fibre                    0.1g
Calcium               0mg

Soya milk

Soya milk is the most popular milk alternative, based on its high protein content and (normally) added calcium and vitamin D. However if we’re going all organic and non-GMO, these fortifications aren’t possible, making it a poor competitor for being a milk alternative. Relative to the others listed here, it also is low in carbohydrates and fat.
Ingredients: water, hulled organic soya beans (5.9%), organic apple juice concentrate, sea salt
Nutrition per 100ml:
Energy                 32 kcal
Carbohydrate       2.4g
of which sugars   2.4g
Fat                       1.7g
Saturated fat        0.3g
Protein                 3.0g
Salt                      0.14g
Fibre                    0.5g
Calcium               0mg

Is it worth going organic?

In my research, I’ve looked at the organic alternatives where possible. I would encourage you to opt for organic, so long as you are not sacrificing the health properties of the drink (such as in Oatly’s case); while it may not have substantial health benefits, it’s essential we think of the production chain of our food, and the farmers and field workers who have to handle our food before being processed – these men and women have to come into contact with chemicals that we ourselves don’t want to touch or ingest. And applying simple rules of economics, the more we demand organic products, the cheaper and more numerous they will become!
In my case, I’ll be opting for unsweetened soya or almond milk with added calcium and vitamins when replacing cows’ milk for now, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a milk alternative that uses a combination of organic ingredients with fortified calcium and vitamins – please let me know if you come across one!

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Hi, I'm Besma

Welcome to Curiously Conscious, an ethical lifestyle blog for the modern conscious consumer.

I've been seeking kinder ways to live across clean beauty, ethical fashion, healthy food, eco travel and more since 2014. My philosophy is to be kind to the earth, to each other, and to ourselves. Find out more →

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