Think switching to non-dairy milk is an all-around healthy move? Not so fast.
Plant-based milks, like almond or soy, have become a popular alternatives for millions of people with dietary restrictions. They’ve become the go-to dairy for vegans, those suffering from lactose intolerance, and even for those just looking to reduce their intake of animal products. But, if it’s the healthiest dairy option you’re looking for, don’t just assume it will come from a plant.
A new study found that many nondairy drinkers automatically assume their non-dairy milk choice is healthier than cow’s milk. And that may not be the case.
When 1,000 Americans were surveyed, it turns out that many consumers don’t actually pay attention to the nutritional labels on their milk.
So Consumer Reports got to work evaluating 35 types of milks including various brands of almond, coconut, soy, and oat milk to determine how they compare nutritionally to each other. They compared the amount of vitamins and minerals in each and scored based on calories, saturated fat, sodium, protein, fiber, and sugar. Added sugar in plant-based milk is of particular concern. Sugars occur naturally in cow’s milk, but is often times added in large quantities to give nondairy milks a similar flavor.
Protein is also another area of concern. While cow’s milk is high in protein, almond milk just can’t compete — which may be the reason why kids who drink non-cow’s milk are shorter than their peers.
So CR’s results?
Unsweetened Silk Organic Soy Milk ranked the highest overall in the survey. It was rated “very good” for having a comparable number of vitamins and “excellent” for nutritional value.
Another of the brand’s milks didn’t fair so well. Silk’s Original Silk Coconut Milk ranked lowest milk overall due to poor nutritional content.
One take away: milks with “original” or “plain” in their names often contain the most added sugars, so look for milks with “unsweetened” displayed prominently on the label.
Not being nutritionally identical doesn’t mean that plant-based milks are a bad choice, provided you find one with a decent nutritional profile, but neither are non-dairy milks automatically better for the environment. While it’s true that oat and soy milks may use less water and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than cow’s milk, almond milk has a higher water-usage footprint that soy or cow’s milk.
No matter what type of milk you buy, going organic will at least help reduce the environmental impact of pesticide use.
Consumer Reports notes that their research will help ensure shoppers are more informed when hitting the grocery store regardless of their reasons for seeking nondairy substitutes.