A new report details the benefits of each

  • Cow’s milk alternatives are increasingly popular for people with allergies and intolerances or for those who prefer a dairy-free diet.
  • However, consumers are not always aware of the differences in micronutrient content of plant-based milk substitutes compared to cow’s milk.
  • The researchers therefore analyzed different plant milks and found differences in mineral content not only by type but also by brand.

Plant-based alternatives to milk are popular for health, ethical and environmental reasons. Many people may also prefer the taste of plant-based milk alternatives to regular cow’s milk.

Plant-based milks include a range of options like soy, coconut, oats, hemp, rice, quinoa, peas, almonds, and other nut varieties, but profiles nutritional values ​​often vary with certain brands and types.

Cow’s milk is a key source of micronutrients such as phosphorus, selenium and zinc, therefore, it is important that consumers understand the differences in nutritional content of any plant-based milk substitutes they consume.

Previous search analyzed the nutritional value of vegetable milk substitutes compared to cow’s milk. And now, researchers from the Institute of Food Safety and Health (IFSH) have analyzed the nutritional content of various plant-based milk drinks and found variations in mineral content across types and brands.

The results showed that pea-based drinks contained the most phosphorus, selenium and zinc, while soymilk overall contained the most magnesium.

The researchers presented the results of their research at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Chicago.

Dr Sue Reevesregistered nutritionist and member of the Association for Nutrition, not involved in the new research, said Medical News Today that people may choose plant-based milk substitutes for the following reasons.

  • Allergies and intolerances: Some people are lactose intolerant, which means they don’t produce the lactase enzyme needed to break it down.
  • Veganism:People who follow a vegan or plant-based diet do not consume or use any animal products out of concern for animal welfare.
  • Sustainability: Among other ecological effects, cows contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, so people may choose not to consume dairy products for environmental reasons.

Researchers from IFSH, a consortium made up of the Illinois Institute of Technology and the Food and drug administration (FDA), analyzed a selection of plant-based dairy alternatives, including almond, cashew, coconut, hemp, oat, pea, rice and soy, all marketed under various trade names.

As part of their analysis, they measured the amount of magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium in a total of 85 samples, using a technique called inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). It is an extremely sensitive method for determining the exact amount of a specific element, such as a metal, in a given sample.

They selected these specific micronutrients because there is no need to list them on the nutrition facts label food products, although they are known constituents of cow’s milk.

Using statistical analysis, the researchers found that the mineral content varied widely. There were differences between different types of plant-based alternatives to milk (i.e. soy-based versus almond), but also between brands of the same type of product.

Of all the samples analyzed in the research, only pea and soy drinks had higher levels of magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium compared to cow’s milk. Pea milk was the highest, with levels of phosphorus, zinc and selenium around 50% higher.

Ben RedanPhD, an FDA research chemist and principal investigator of the research, explained to DTM why it is important to consider the differences between plant-based milk substitutes.

“As plant-based milk alternatives grow in popularity, it’s important for consumers to understand how their consumption can affect their overall intake of essential mineral micronutrients,” he said.

“The mineral micronutrients we measured in these products are known to play a role in many body functions, including normal functioning of the immune system, proper regulation of blood pressure [and] glucose and bone health.

– Ben Redan, PhD, research chemist at the FDA and principal investigator of the study

Lily ChapmanBSc, MSc, performance trainer and sports and exercise nutritionist, not involved in the study, agreed, pointing out to MNT how the nutritional makeup of different plant-based milks tends to vary.

“To make it more complicated, they are continually adding to the plant-based milk lineup in terms of the type of milk, fortifications, and different brands available, which can affect those nutritional compositions as well,” Chapman said.

Dr. Redan explained that “our target mineral micronutrient comparisons are based on a basket of two to three brands across eight types of plant-based milk alternatives (almond, cashew, coconut, hemp, oat , peas, rice and soy) -based drinks).

He said the study results indicate that “some plant-based dairy alternatives may be a source of mineral micronutrients, but differences between product types should be considered when considering their nutritional value. “.

“Pea-based milk substitutes contained, on average, higher amounts of the majority of the mineral micronutrients measured compared to soy-based milk substitutes. Milk substitutes made from soy or peas contained higher amounts of target mineral micronutrients compared to the other six types of plant-based milk substitutes we evaluated.

Ben Redan, PhD, FDA research chemist and study principal investigator

Dr. Redan noted that his research focused on the evaluation of target mineral micronutrients in plant-based dairy products.

“One limitation is that we have not considered how certain components present in some of these products may reduce the body’s ability to absorb these nutrients (i.e. their bioavailability may be affected)” , did he declare. “Another issue is that consumers with a nut or soy allergy should avoid products containing these allergens.”

Despite the strong nutrient profiles of pea and soy milks, these choices may not be right for everyone. For example, pea-based milk may cause digestive upset, while soy milk may not be suitable for some allergies.

While the researchers hope the data on essential minerals will help consumers make informed decisions about plant-based milk alternatives, the intention of the study is to inform rather than advise consumers on one type of plant-based milk rather than another.

“It’s definitely worth checking the labels on plant-based milk alternatives, as some are sweet and contain added sugars, and many are low in protein,” Dr. Reeves said. “Also, plant-based milks can be low in calcium, iodine and vitamin B12, nutrients normally found in cow’s milk, so take a look at the label to see if they are enriched.”

Additionally, some plant-based alternatives, such as almond milk, can have a negative impact on the environment. To this end, oat milk has been suggested as the most durable plant-based alternative to milk.

“Overall, each milk has a variety of pros and cons when looking at its different nutritional properties,” Chapman said.

“In my opinion, I would choose the milk that you like the most (in terms of taste) and the one that corresponds to your objectives and your situation. For example, if you are lactose intolerant, dairy products are not for you. Allergic to nuts? Almond milk is prohibited. Ethics is another consideration, with estimates that the overall impact of animal agriculture is 14.5% of human-made emissions. With this, it has been found that sustainability and animal welfare are powerful grounds for advocacy.

As with any food choice, the key to overall health and well-being is to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. Some people may choose to alternate between different plant-based dairy alternatives, which could add a variety of micronutrients to their diet.

There is nothing wrong with changing them. Personally, I like oats with my coffee, hazelnut with my oats, and soy with my protein shakes!

Lily Chapman, BSc MSc, performance coach and sports and exercise nutritionist

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