Plant-based diets are on the rise with nearly 2.5 million Australians following a vegetarian diet. Swapping to this way of eating can be super exciting but also confusing. With so many new products on the market, which are the healthiest to choose?
To make it a little easier for you, I’ve created a little comparison of some of the most popular plant-based milks. You can find most of these at your local woolworths, coles or health food store.
When choosing a plant-based milk, look out for these key nutrients to ensure your milk is a good choice.
Many plant based milks are naturally low in calcium. Calcium is essential for maintaining healthy and strong bones and teeth. When our body doesn’t receive enough calcium from the diet, it uses the calcium stored in the bones to supply the amount needed in the blood. Blood calcium is responsible for muscle contractions - like keeping your heart beating. Overtime this can weaken bones and increase the risk of osteoporosis.
Aim for 120mg of calcium per 100ml.
Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin for vegans and one to be considered strongly for vegetarians. It is only found in animal products such as milk, meat and eggs. It is the one nutrient that cannot be found on a vegan diet unless you use fortified (added into) products. You definitely don’t want to be turning a blind eye to this one.
Vitamin B12 s essential for creating red blood cells, producing DNA and forming myelin sheath which coat our nerves. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause irreversible nerve damage. Thats a no thank you from me!
Aim for 1-3 micograms of vitamin B12 per serve (1 cup)!
Iodine is a unique mineral essential for normal growth and brain development. It helps to produce thyroid hormones which are essential for maintaining metabolism, heart rate, kidney function, fertility and bone structure.
Iodine deficiency can lead to thyroid disorder such as goiters. Iodine was traditionally found in cows milk. This was due to iodine-containing feed supplements fed to cows and iodophor sanitizing agents used in cleaning. Today, there is reduced levels of this found in cows milk. We can also find iodine is seaweed, fortified breads, iodised salt and some milks.
The only milk I currently know of which contains iodine is Oatly Oat Milk Barista blend - however, we don't know how much iodine this contains.
Vitamin D works closely with calcium to build strong bones . It also helps calcium be absorbed from the gut, keep the immune system healthy and build strong muscles. We traditionally vitamin D from the sun as the body can synthesis (create) it when exposed to sunlight.
Some other products can contain small amounts of vitamin D such as fish, eggs and UV-exposed mushrooms. In Australia, we are pretty sun-conscious. Many of us work indoors or protect our skin when we're in the sun. Current research shows that approximately 31% of Aussie’s are vitamin D deficient, meaning this can seriously impact our bone health long term.
Aim for 1-2 micrograms of vitamin D per serve.
So how do the different plant-based milks stack up?
1. Impressed Plant Milk by Impressed Life
This is honestly one of my top picks for plant milks. It was launched in Australia at the end of 2019 and it has such a unique, creamy flavour. Not only does it taste good, but nutritionally it is one of the best plant milk available for vegans.
· It’s fortified with over 100mg of calcium per 100ml – very high which is optimal!
· It has added vitamin B12 – great for vegans who don’t naturally have this in their diet.
· It is rich in protein! 1 glass contains 8.5g of protein, providing 18% of the RDI for females and 13% for males.
· It has added vitamin D to help with calcium absorption
· It’s made from a blend of almond, cashew, pea and fava beans so is great for those with soy or dairy allergies
· It’s a touch expensive at $5.50 per bottle (but trust me so worth it!)
2. Oat Milk by Oatly
This Swedish oat milk is a new addition to the Australian market. It has a super creamy taste and is great for coffee! I am usually a Bonsoy lover in coffee, but hate the fact that Bonsoy has no calcium. I’ve personally found Oatly to be a great replacement for bonsoy that actually has calcium in it.
· Tastes nice and creamy!
· Fortified with calcium - at 300mg per cup it provides 38% of the RDI.
· It is great for allergies as it doesn’t contain any milk, soy, rice or nuts.
· It can be difficult to find, it’s only available in some Woolworths and cafes.
· It’s not yet fortified with as many vitamins and minerals as the European version. No Vitamin B12 or vitamin D unfortunately!
3. Soy Milky Light by Vitasoy
I decided to include Vitasoy Soy Milky light as it’s been my main staple milk since going off dairy. I personally found this milk to be the creamiest and most similar to dairy milk, so it was the easiest for me when I made the switch. I choose the light version as the regular version of Vitasoy Soy Milky actually contains added sunflower oil.
· Super tasty and creamy
· It’s fortified with at least 100mg of calcium per 100ml (similar to the other two above).
· It's pretty cheap, between $2-$3 at most supermarkets
· Has added raw sugar – not the worst thing in the world, but the sugar doesn’t provide much nutritional benefit!
· Not fortified with any other nutrients like vitamin D or vitamin B12.
4. Unsweetened Almond Milk by Almond Breeze
Fun fact, I personally hate Almond Milk. BUT I have so many clients that love it and I regularly see Almond Breeze pop up in people’s diets, so I thought I would include this in my comparison.
· It is one of the lowest-calorie milks on the market. This is may be a good option if you have a restricted-energy (calorie) intake or are trying to manage your weight. However, not great for kids as it is so low in fat.
· It’s gluten free so great for coeliacs.
· A good option for those who don’t like soy, oat or other milks.
· It has calcium in it. However, it only contains 80mg of calcium per 100mg. My usual goal is 100mg of calcium per 100ml, or even better – 120mg of calcium per 100ml!
· Not fortified with any other vitamins like vitamin D or vitamin B12.
Due to the poor amount of calcium, I generally don’t recommend Almond Breeze. Opt for an Almond Milk with higher calcium such as Vitasoy or Califia Farms.
5. Rice Milk by Pure Harvest
If you’ve met me or listened to me speak, you would know I’m pretty passionate about calcium being fortified in plant milks. Pure Harvest is a brand that is very popular, but it actually really annoys me!
There is no consistency in the calcium-fortification! Their rice milk is fortified! Yay! But their soy and almond are not!
· It’s organic! This is a great option for people who are wanting an organic milk. Many organic milks are not calcium-fortified so be wary when choosing your milk!
· No added sugar – many plant milks often have raw sugar added, providing limited additional nutritional benefit.
· Calcium-fortified – it contains 110mg of calcium per 100mg. This is above my minimum calcium fortification goal which is 100mg per 100g, but not as high as my top goal which is 120mg per 100g.
· Thin and super sweet – I personally am not a big fan of the taste, but many people are!
· It doesn’t contain any fibre, unlike soy, oat or Impressed Plant Milk. Fibre is great for gut health, keeping you full and keeping your blood sugar levels stable!
· It isn’t fortified with anything else like vitamin B12 or vitamin D.
The bottom line
There are A LOT of different plant-milks on the market and it can be confusing to know which one.
If you’re new to adopting a plant-based or dairy-free diet I would firstly recommend just trying all the different types of milk on the market. Theres everything from plant-milk blends like Impressed Plant Milk to soy, macadamia, coconut, rice, hemp, pea and almond! Once you’ve found one you like, aim to choose one that’s fortified with calcium with at least 120mg per 100ml. Bonus points if you choose a milk that has additional fortification with vitamin B12 or Vitamin D too!