Whether it’s out of conviction for animal protection or even to reduce their environmental footprint, increasingly more people are turning to vegetable drinks to replace cow's milk. Are these options nutritionally equivalent? Let’s take a look at the various products now available on the market.
Cow's milk and soy beverages are quite comparable if the latter is labeled "fortified.” Look for this information on the packaging of your favourite soy beverage. In fact, when a drink is said to be fortified, companies must add vitamin D, vitamin B12 and calcium to it. Warning! Not all of these products are fortified.
In addition, the content of calcium, vitamins D, B2, B12, A and zinc in fortified soy milk is equal to or greater (vitamin B12) than in cow’s milk. Another benefit that shouldn’t be overlooked is soy milk’s iron content, as it provides an average of 8-14% of the recommended daily allowance. However, it’s non-heme iron, which is iron that is not of animal origin, and the body doesn’t absorb it as well. One tip to increase the absorption of non-heme iron is to consume it with products rich in vitamin C, including citrus fruits, kiwi or peppers, which are all great snack choices!
Not all vegetable drinks are the same
When we think of vegetable drinks, we instinctively think of drinking soy, rice or almond milk. However, there are several others, such as oat milk, hemp drinks, cashew milk and pea milk. Oat milk is a delicious, creamy, nut-free substitute. This drink is rich in carbohydrates that gives it a mild, sweet taste. Try it in your next coffee!
As for pea milk, it’s a lactose-free, nut-free, gluten-free and vegan option. This drink is rich, creamy and satisfying to taste. One of its strong points is that it contains as much protein as cow's milk. Ripple brand pea milk is one of the pioneers and contains only 90 calories per 240 ml serving.
Unlike soy and pea milk, other products on the market are often protein-free, so they are not substitutes for cow's milk. Protein provides a feeling of satiety and helps prevent cravings between meals.
Comparison between cow's milk and some plant-based beverages
he table below shows the differences for certain minerals, vitamins, and proteins in different products, based on a 250 ml serving.
|Nutrients||Cow’s milk||Soy milk||Coconut milk||Almond milk||Oat milk||Rice milk|
Benefits of consuming vegetable drinks
Vegetable drinks don’t contain any cholesterol. Conversely, they contain phytosterols, which are chemically similar to cholesterol molecules and take the place of cholesterol molecules in the body, reducing its absorption. Daily consumption of plant phytosterols, at a rate of 2 grams/day, helps lower "bad" cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) by about 10%. Also, the fats in plant-based beverages are mostly unsaturated fats, which are good fats in terms of cardiovascular health.
Vegetable drinks often come in a multitude of flavours, such as strawberry, vanilla and chocolate, but there are also other choices like dark chocolate, chai, mocha, cappuccino, etc. Flavoured drinks usually contain a lot more sugar than their original version, which makes the calories climb quickly. This is why it’s important to make informed choices.
In short, whether you opt for a beverage made from soy, rice, almonds, cashews, hemp or cow's milk, do it first and foremost according to your beliefs and needs. However, make sure that you supplement your calcium, vitamin D and protein intake well!
Familiprix in collaboration with Hubert Cormier
Gylling, H., Plat, J., Turley, S., Ginsberg, H. N., Ellegård, L., Jessup, W., ... & Silbernagel, G. (2014). Plant sterols and plant stanols in the management of dyslipidaemia and prevention of cardiovascular disease. Atherosclerosis, 232(2), 346-360.