Food for Thought: Vegan-Friendly Alternatives To Cow’s Milk

At present, the plant-based market is work c. €10bn. By 2027, this is expected to treble to be worth over c. €30bn.

Are you contributing to the growth of this market? I sure am! I love coconut flat whites or if there’s only oat drink, I’ll take that either. Nonetheless, the global dairy market is still worth over one hundred times the milk alternatives market. There’s no fear of the cows or the dairy farming families being put out of work just yet.

Plant-based drinks are vegan-friendly and are suitable for those who have lactose intolerance or for some adults who have a milk protein allergy. Note there is specific guidance on the suitability of these drinks for children who are under 24 months with lactose intolerance or cow’s milk allergy. In particular, soya milk is not a suitable alternative for an infant with cow’s milk allergy as it has similar proteins to those found in cow’s milk. This guidance is from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

From a health and nutrition perspective, why choose one milk alternative over the other?

Top Tips When Buying Plant-Based Drink

First and foremost, look for unsweetened varieties. Many milk alternatives can be high in added sugar as they don’t have the natural sweetness that lactose, the natural sugar in milk, would provide. While many of the big brands, such as Alpro, offer sweetened and unsweetened options, some of the supermarket own brands only provide those sweetened with sugar. Ask yourself the question, is it more important to save a euro or is it more important to look after your long-term health by practicing responsible eating behaviour?

Without further ado, here’s a breakdown of the most commonly consumed plant-based drinks and the health benefits that each confer.

Almond Drink

Almond milk has a creamy texture that works well in coffee, in smoothies and for making porridge. It can be found in sweetened and unsweetened, roasted and unroasted varieties. My personal preference is the unsweetened roasted almond milk by Alpro which has a subtle nutty taste.

Unsweetened almond drink is a good option if low calories are your priority. However, it is unsuitable for those with a nut allergy, as you may have guessed.

Oat Drink

Oat drink was first introduced to me in a coffee and I was head-over-heels in love immediately. A subjective statement, but I believe oat drink is one of the most subtle tasting milk alternatives and one I would recommend it if you are avoiding dairy but miss the taste or are struggling with the new taste of plant-based drinks.

Oat drink is naturally low in saturated fat which is important for maintaining heart health. As with all oat-containing products, oat drink cannot be guaranteed gluten-free or suitable for those who have coeliac disease, due to the nature of the farming practices and the biology of the oats.

Oats are often grown alongside other grains which could result in cross-contamination and the protein in oats, avenin, is not tolerated by all Coeliacs.

Oatly is fortified with B2, as well as calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12 which can often be low in people who are consuming a primarily vegetarian or vegan diet.

Fun Fact: In 2016 there was a world shortage of oat drink in response to the sudden demand for the product.

Coconut Drink

Coconut drink works very well where a strong flavour is desired. In cooking, it is an excellent addition to Thai dishes such as red and green curries. For something sweet, coconut milk forms a delicious base for smoothies or for making hot chocolate.

Coconut drink is low in natural sugars and calories. Excitingly, it is available blended with almond drink which is an excellent choice for indecisive people – the best of both worlds.

Soy Drink

Soy drink can be considered the “original” dairy-free drink as it was one of the first plant-based drinks to hit the market and it is still going strong today. Initially unsure of the taste, I am now 50% converted to soy milk although I’ll always opt for almond or coconut drink first for my much adored flat white.

Soy drink is a product of the soybean. It provides almost the same amount of protein as cow’s milk and offers more potassium than any of the other milk alternatives. Potassium is important for muscles and blood pressure. Noteworthy, soy is a common food allergen, so double check that you are not allergic before trying this one out.

Like almond drink, soy drink is available in a number of presentations, including a “lighter” option, sweetened and unsweetened, flavoured and unflavoured.

Other Plant-Based Drinks

Other milk alternatives include rice, hazelnut, cashew and hemp. Most of these drinks can be found in the supermarket beside your regular milk or on the shelf in the wholefoods or free-from section.

Although not exclusively plant-based, I regularly share ways to incorporate milk alternatives into your meals on my Facebook and Instagram pages @ The Baking Nutritionist.

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