Plant-based milk, line the shelves in the refrigerator section of most supermarkets these days. These are the milk alternatives that results from breakdown (size reduction) of plant material (cereals, pseudo-cereals, legumes oilseeds, nuts) extracted in water and further homogenization of such fluids, results in particle size distribution in range of 5–20 μm which imitates cow’s milk in appearance and consistency. Although, there is no stated definition and classification of these plant-based milk alternatives in literature, a general classification of the plant based/vegetable milk alternatives into five categories is attempted, which is as follows:
- Cereal based : Oat milk, Rice milk, Corn milk, Spelt milk.
- Legume based : Soy milk, Peanut milk, Lupin milk, Cowpea milk.
- Nut based: Almond milk, Coconut milk, Hazelnut milk, Pistachio milk, Walnut milk.
- Seed based: Sesame milk, Flax milk, Hemp milk, Sunflower milk.
- Pseudo-cereal based : Quinoa milk, Teff milk, Amaranth milk.
Why go for a Non-Dairy Milk?
- Lactose intolerance
- Milk allergy
- Don’t like milk, but like the creamy taste or need a milk-like product for cooking
- Concerns about inflammation
- Ethical concerns
Are plant-based milk healthier than dairy (cow’s or buffalo) milk? Should people make the switch?
If you drink dairy milk and have no issues with it, there is no reason to switch to a plant-based option. Cow’s milk is a good dietary source of necessary vitamins and minerals. A serving of cow’s milk contains calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, and is a host of micronutrients that you need in your diet and incase you have a milk allergy or lactose intolerance you can do so just remember to check the label before buying as most of them are fortified with different vitamins and minerals as they don’t posses it naturally. So choose a per your needs and taste.
On what basis you should switch your milk?
The quality of plant-based kinds of milk varies greatly when it comes to nutrients. Some contain virtually the same amount of vitamins and minerals as cow’s milk; others may fall far short. For example, many almond milks are much lower in protein than cow’s milk. So identify your requirements and aim for the milk that ideally contains good amounts of protein, vitamin D, iron, and calcium and have has at least 8 or 9 grams of protein per serving.
Different types of Plant-Based Milk
Almond milk :
Almond tastes almost similar to regular milk but is thinner in consistency. It contains lower amounts of carbohydrates and saturated fat as compared to dairy and is also lactose-free. Unfortunately, the protein value of almond is also lower than cow milk. Almonds are rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant good for your brain, blood, and skin.
Coconut Milk :
Coconut is a nutrient-dense product and is a good source of fiber. It is rich in vitamin and minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium and zinc. It also contains a significant amount of vitamin C and E. The use of coconut milk is associated with health benefits such as anti-carcinogenic, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral. It contains a saturated fat, lauric acid which is present in mother’s milk and has been related to promote brain development. Coconut milk consumption is rarely associated with allergenic reactions. Other benefits of coconut milk includes: aids in digestion, nourishes the skin and has cooling properties.
Soy Milk :
Soy milk was the first plant-based milk that provided nutrients to the population where the milk supply was inadequate or for the populations who were allergic to milk proteins and were lactose intolerant. Soy milk is a good source of essential monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids considered good for cardiovascular health. It serves as an inexpensive, refreshing and nutritional beverage to the consumers. The only disadvantage of soy milk consumption is prevalence of soy allergies, making it unsuitable for population who are allergic to soy proteins. When people compare soy milk with almond, hemp, and oat milk, this milk alternative has the highest amount of protein per serving.
Oat Milk :
As the name suggests, it is made from oats. Extracted from whole groats or steel-cut oats, the milk is obtained by these oats being soaked in water, blended, and finally strained using a cheese cloth. The result is a milk creamy in texture, gluten- and lactose-free, vegan, and minimal flavoring.
Oat milk is slightly sweet, with a thin consistency that is similar to low-fat milk. Oats are a good source of quality protein with right amino acid balance. Health benefits of oats are associated with dietary fibers such as β-glucan, functional protein, lipid and starch components and the phytochemicals present in the oat grains makes it the promising raw materials for the preparation of functional plant-based milk. Not only this it is naturally high on vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A and D, iron, and calcium; and is cholesterol-free, and low in fat content. However, one catch would be that since it is made from carbohydrates, oat milk has higher sugar content, tagging it as a ‘proceed with caution’ for anyone with varying sugar levels.
Quinoa Milk :
Quinoa offers more protein and fiber than most other grains, is naturally gluten-free, and contains all the essential amino acids. It is also rich in iron, magnesium, and zinc. Milk made from quinoa has a distinct flavor and is a bit nutty.
Functional components of plant-based milk.
Nutritional Comparison of Different Milks :
Cow’s/buffalo milk is considered a staple in many people’s diets, but lactose intolerance, dietary restrictions, and ethical preferences have led people to discover the beauty in non-dairy options too. So if you are looking for a milk alternative as a source of nutrition, find one that has a similar protein and carbohydrate count to cow’s milk — that’s 8g and 12g respectively. Most non-dairy milk is also fortified with vitamins and minerals naturally found in animal products, making them a good source for vegans who lack these essential supplements in their daily diet.
Plant-based milk is often thinner and lighter in texture. Additives such as salt, carrageenan and vegetable gums are usually added to achieve a thicker and smoother texture while giving the milk longer shelf life. While not detrimental to your health, these thickening agents have been known to cause inflammation and gastrointestinal issues for some, which negates the benefits of adopting this dairy-free lifestyle.