Nutritionally-speaking, soy milk is best plant-based milk
Closest to cow’s milk in range of nutrients it offers
January 29, 2018
A new study looks at 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 compares their nutritional values with
those of cow’s milk. After cow’s milk, which is still the most nutritious, soy
milk comes out a clear winner.
How healthy is your almond milk really? It may taste good
and may not cause you any of the unpleasant reactions caused by cow’s milk. But
though plant-based milk beverages of this kind have been on the market for a
couple of decades and are advertised as being healthy and wholesome for those
who are lactose-intolerant, little research has been done to compare the
benefits and drawbacks of the various kinds of plant-based milk. A new study
from McGill University looks at 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 compares their nutritional values with those of
cow’s milk. After cow’s milk, which is still the most nutritious, soy milk
comes out a clear winner.
The researchers compared the unsweetened versions of the
various plant-based milks in all cases and the figures below are based on a 240
Soy milk — the most balanced nutritional profile
• Soy milk is widely consumed for its
health benefits linked to the anti-carcinogenic properties of phytonutrients
present in the milk known as isoflavones.
• Has been a substitute for cow’s
milk for 4 decades.
• Concerns, however, are the ‘beany
flavor’ and the presence of anti-nutrients (substances that reduce nutrient
intake and digestion).
Rice milk — sweet taste and relatively little nutrition
• Lactose free and can act as an
alternative for patients with allergy issues caused by soybeans and almonds.
• Concerns, apart from the high
carbohydrate count, is that consumption of rice milk without proper care can
result in malnutrition, especially in infants.
Coconut milk — no protein and few calories, but most of
them from fat
• Widely consumed in Asia and South
• Consumption can help reduce levels
of harmful low-density lipoproteins (bad cholesterol) that are associated with
• Nutritional values are reduced if
stored for over 2 months.
Almond milk — need for complementary sources of food to
provide essential nutrients
• Almonds have a high content of
monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) that are considered helpful in weight loss
and weight management. MUFA also helps in reduction of low-density lipoprotein
Cow’s milk benefits & drawbacks
• A wholesome, complete food,
providing all major nutrients like fat, carbohydrates and proteins.
• Can help humans by providing a wide
range of host-defence proteins because various beneficial anti-microbial
effects are found in both human and bovine milks. (E.g., a study shows that in
the case of infants, consumption of cow’s milk has considerably reduced risk of
fever and respiratory infections.)
• But the presence of various
pathogens like Salmonella spp and Escherichia coli O157:H7 in milk have been
associated with disease outbreaks around the world.
Cow’s milk allergy & lactose intolerance
• One of the most common allergies
among infants and children affecting 2.2-3.5% of children (a greater percentage
than those who are affected by peanuts and tree nut allergies). As many as 35 %
of these infants outgrow being allergic to milk by the age of 5-6, and this may
increase to 80% by age 16.
• Lactose intolerance, due to the
absence or deficiency of the enzyme lactase in the digestive tract, affects
somewhere between 15-75 % of all adults depending on race, food habits and gut
• Some studies have suggested that 80
% of people of African origin and 100 % of those of Asian and Indigenous
American origin are lactose intolerant.
The researchers add that more work will need to be done
to understand the effects of various conventional and novel processing methods
on the nutritional profile, flavour and texture of these alternative milks.
Materials provided by McGill University. Note: Content
may be edited for style and length.
1 Sai Kranthi Vanga, Vijaya
Raghavan. How well do plant based alternatives fare nutritionally compared to
cow’s milk? Journal of Food Science and Technology, 2017; 55 (1): 10 DOI: