Plant-based milk not nutritionally equal to cow milk, finds new study

Only 12 percent of plant-based milk products had as much or more protein, vitamin D, and calcium as cow’s milk.
Sejal Sharma
Representational image
Representational image


Is plant-based milk a good alternative to cow milk?

No, says a yet-to-be-published study presented at Nutrition 2023, the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition. The researcher of the study found that only 12 percent of the plant-based milk products had as much or more protein, vitamin D, and calcium as cow’s milk, reported CNN.

The study was based on an analysis of nutrition labels and ingredients from 233 plant-based milk products from 23 different manufacturers.

Only 28 plant-based beverages had as much nutrition as cow milk

The researcher, Abigal Johnson, found that 76 percent of the oat-based products, 69 percent of soy-based, and 66 percent of almond-based alternatives were fortified with both calcium and vitamin D.

“I’m not seriously concerned about this as it’s easy to get these nutrients from other sources, and cow’s milk certainly isn’t perfect and infallible,” said Johnson, who is an assistant professor and associate director of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health Nutrition Coordinating Center in Minneapolis. 

“But if a consumer thinks plant-based milks are a one-to-one substitution for dairy, many of them are not,” she added.

Plant-based milk produced from almonds, coconut, soy, oats, or peanuts is an option for people who can't or don't want to drink traditional dairy milk harvested from cows, sheep, or goats. More and more people in the US are substituting cow milk with plant-based beverages. 

Is dairy milk as healthy as they say?

Although an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, there’s a long-standing myth about dairy milk. That it’s a critical and absolutely essential part of a balanced diet. Apart from being top sources of artery-clogging saturated fat, there is also the morality issue around milk-based products. It contributes to animal cruelty and emits three times as many greenhouse gases as compared to plant-based alternatives.

CNN spoke to Christopher Gardner, a research professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center in California, who has analyzed alternative milk options. He said, “My initial response to the ‘Oh my gosh, plant milks aren’t as nutritious as cow’s milk’ is that it’s bunk. None of the plant milks have cholesterol, they all have very low levels of saturated fat, and some of them have fiber.

“Dairy milk has cholesterol, has saturated fat, and does not have fiber,” Gardner added. “And when it comes to dairy and calcium, three-quarters of the world is lactose intolerant, and they get their calcium elsewhere.”

“Further, for those concerned about climate change, the milk alternatives will be a better option, and in the long run, we can’t have human health without planetary health,” said Dr. Walter Willett, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

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