When it comes to milk, we’re no longer limited to what comes from cows. Where there were once one or two options for those who were unable to process dairy, most supermarkets now have an expansive milk section, with plant-based alternatives outnumbering cow milk. But from a nutritional perspective, which type is best for you?
A new study out of McGill University found that although cow milk is still highest in nutrients, soy milk comes in a close second. The research took into consideration the four most-commonly consumed types of milk beverages from plant sources around the world — almond milk, soy milk, rice milk and coconut milk — and compared their nutritional values against those of traditional cow milk.
But what this study didn’t measure are other factors, like the environmental impact of growing the plants required to manufacture these milks or other side effects they could have on your body. The focus of this research was strictly on the nutritional components of the milk. So, does that mean soy milk is the healthiest plant-based milk and best choice for everyone? Definitely not — again, this is just looking at nutritional value.
And although soy milk was found to be the most nutritious, researchers also pointed to concerned over the presence of anti-nutrients — substances that reduce nutrient intake and digestion. Rice milk, while sweet-tasting and an option for those with dairy and soy allergies, has relatively little nutritional value and high levels of carbohydrates.
While almond milk has a high content of monounsaturated fatty acids that are considered helpful in weight management and helps in reduction of bad cholesterol, those who rely solely on this milk alternative also need to seek supplementary nutritional components from other sources.
Coconut milk has few calories, but also little protein. And while drinking it can help reduce bad cholesterol, storing it for two months or more leads to a reduction in nutritional value.
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The researchers do note that more work has to be done on both understanding the nutritional profile of the plant-based milks and their processing methods, but at least having some nutrition information is a step in the right direction, allowing consumers to make more informed choices in the grocery store.