The vast majority of plant-based milk alternatives aren’t as good for you as real milk, according to a major study.
Scientists analyzed more than 200 brands of almond, oat and soy milk sold in the US for their calcium, vitamin D and protein content.
Nearly nine in 10 were found to be nutritionally inferior, containing less of at least one of the three nutrients compared to cow’s milk.
Dr. Abigail Johnson, the epidemiologist who led the study, said: “Our results provide evidence that many plant-based milk alternatives are not nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk.”
She even said that people who exclusively drink plant-based milks should consider supplements to make sure they’re not missing out on essential vitamins and minerals.
University of Minnesota scientists looked at 233 plant-based milk alternatives to see how well they measure up to animals
She added: “Based on these findings, consumers should look for alternative plant-based dairy products that contain calcium and vitamin D as ingredients.
They may also want to consider adding other sources of calcium and vitamin D to their diet.
“Product labeling requirements and nutritional advice to the public are among the approaches that can be useful in warning and educating consumers.”
In the study, scientists looked at 233 brands of plant-based milk, including hazelnut, rice and cashew milk, made by 23 companies.
In general, the plant-based milks contain an average of about 350 milligrams (mg) of calcium and three micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D per 240 milliliters, ml.
They also contain about two grams (g) of protein per 8.1 fl oz (240 ml).
For comparison: the United States Department of Agriculture says whole milk contains about eight grams of protein per eight ounces.
It also has about 306 mg of calcium and nearly three mcg of vitamin D per serving.
The results showed that only 28 of the plant-based alternatives contained similar amounts or more of each substance compared to cow’s milk.
And only 38 — 16 percent — had the same amount of protein as that found in cow’s milk, with soy and pea milk being the most likely.
The nutritional gap is why dairies have been urging authorities for years to ban plant-based alternatives from calling themselves “milk.”
But in draft guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released this yearthey said the products could continue to use the term “milk.”
They argued that plant-based drinks do not pretend to be from animals and that consumers should not be confused by the difference.
But they did say that the products should include a nutrient composition table that shows how they compare to milk.
This disappointed the dairy industry, which had expected a stronger ruling after former FDA director Dr. Scott Gottlieb famously stated in 2018 that “an almond doesn’t make milk.”
Milk alternatives have exploded in popularity in recent years due to concerns about climate change, lactose intolerance and animal welfare.
The FDA says adults should consume about 50 grams of protein per day for those who need to consume 2,000 calories.
This would mean that an adult of this size would need to drink about 1.5 liters of cow’s milk – equivalent to six glasses – to meet their protein target.
But if they were to rely solely on plant-based milk alternatives, they would need about 6.2 liters – equivalent to 25 glasses – to reach the same level.
Adults also need about 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day and 15 mcg of vitamin D.
Protein is essential for building and maintaining muscle, boosting the body’s repair work and keeping a person fit as they age.
Calcium and vitamin D are used for building strong, healthy bones and maintaining nerves.
The study results were fed into the University of Minnesota Nutrition Coordinating Center database, which contains nutritional information on more than 19,000 foods.
Dr. Johnson added, “We know from our nutritional evaluations for nutritional studies that consumers are choosing more plant-based milk alternatives.
‘The aim of this project was to increase the number of these milk alternatives in the food database of the Nutrition Coordination Centre.
Next, the researchers plan to explore other nutrients in plant-based milk alternatives that make them different from cow’s milk.
The study was presented at the NUTRITION 2023 conference hosted by the American Society for Nutrition, taking place this week in Boston, Massachusetts.