Plant-Based Milks – what are they and is dairy milk dead?

Soy Milk

There is a growing trend for milk that is plant-based over milk from a cow with almost 25% of us Brits consuming plant-based alternatives. (1) It may be that you have chosen a plant-based milk for health or ethical reasons, but for whatever reason sales are increasing. Pour it in your tea or coffee, make a smoothie, use it on your cereal or in your cooking, we all use milk one way or another. But what we choose is becoming more of a question. Do we opt for cows or plant-based? What do we know about plant-based? Is cows milk still good for us? or is it a personal preference.

Cows milk has long been championed as the main source of protein and calcium securing its status as a healthy staple of our diet. We are told that it aids our growth as children and is also very beneficial for our bones in our older years. But is it? Have we been told this for the benefit of the dairy industry? Full fat milk is very high in saturated fat which as we now know is not beneficial to our health. In fact our consumption has dropped by 50% since the 1950’s. (1) Many people find cows milk intolerant as they can not process the lactose that is found in dairy products, and with 75% of the worlds population intolerant to lactose, the desire for a substitute has produced alternative plant-based products. (1)

We all know where cows milk comes from but do you know where plant based milks come from? They are made from various plants, hence the name, either from the bean, nut or the plant itself. During the process water and thickeners are sometimes added to improve the texture of the plant-based milk, however, coconut milk is 100% natural producing its own water and texture from the white flesh of the brown coconut.

One of the most popular plant-based milks, next to Soy, is Oat milk with a sales increase of over 70%. Swedish brand Oatly has seen a UK sales increase of over 90% in 2018 while Sales of Coconut milk rose by 16% and Almond milk by 10%. The popularity is particularly high in the 16-24yr age group with a marked increase with women under 25. (1)

So what alternatives are there?

  • Soy milk: The most popular, is made from the Soy Bean. Closest to cows milk, high in protein but half the fat and carbohydrate content.
  • Almond milk: Made from the Almond nut. Very low in calories, but also low in protein and carbohydrates.
  • Coconut milk: Made from the white flesh of the coconut. Lower in fat, calories, Protein and carbohydrates.
  • Oat Milk: Made from oats. Similar in calories to cows milk, lower in protein and fat but higher in carbohydrates.
  • Rice milk: Made from brown or white rice. Similar in calories to cows milk, less Protein and fat but considerably higher in Carbohydrates.
  • Cashew milk: Made from the Cashew nut. About the third of calories to cows milk, half the fat and significantly less protein and carbohydrates.
  • (2)

Other less known plant-based milks are, Macadamia, from the Macadamia nut, Hemp, from the Hemp seed and Quinoa, from the edible seed.

Different plant-based milks are more suitable than others depending on the use. Soy and almond milk are suitable in tea and coffee, on cereal and in cooking. Where as coconut milk is useful in cooking or in smoothies. Similarly, oat and rice milk can be used in smoothies and cooking, or, if you prefer, consumed just on their own.

However, cows milk in one form or another still has 96% of the UK adult market with 87% of the population consuming standard cows milk. The popularity is swayed by consumers in the 45yr + age group, who consume cows milk regularly 92% of the time. Research shows that only 73% of 16-24yr olds consume cows milk in 2019, a 79% drop on 2018. (1) This trend suggests that consumption of cows milk will decline further in the future and along with concerns about the ethics and environmental impact of dairy farming, the future could be problematic for the industry.

So how do you choose between cows milk or a plant based alternative? reasons are preferential and could be ethical i.e animal welfare, the environment or could be health related. Alternatively, you may find that balance of both plant and non-plant-based milk suits you best. However, we are all different and your choice should be based according to your lifestyle.

Check out World Plant Based Milk Day on the 22nd August. Give some a try.

References

(1) Coyle, D.,2018 Healthline.[online] available at; https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/best-milk-substitutes [accesed 14th August 2019].

(2) Wood, Z., 2019. The Guardian. [online] available at; https://www.theguardian.com/food/2019/jul/19/plant-based-milk-the-choice-for-almost-25-of-britons-now [accesed 14th August 2019]

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