The vast majority of plant-based milk alternatives aren’t as good for you as real milk, according to a major study.
The scientists tested more than 200 brands of almond, oat and soy milk sold in the US for their calcium, vitamin D and protein content.
Nearly nine out of ten were found to be nutritionally inferior, containing less than 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.”
He even said that people who drink exclusively plant-based milk should consider supplements to ensure they don’t miss out on vital vitamins and minerals.
Scientists at the University of Minnesota analyzed 233 plant-based milk alternatives to see how well they compared to animal milk.
He added: “Based on these findings, consumers should look for alternative products to plant-based milk that include calcium and vitamin D as ingredients.
They may also consider adding other sources of calcium and vitamin D to their diets.
“Product labeling requirements and dietary guidance for the public are among the approaches that may be useful in alerting and educating consumers.”
In the study, the scientists looked at 233 brands of plant-based milk, which also included hazelnut, rice and cashew milk, made by 23 companies.
In general, plant-based milks had about 350 milligrams (mg) of calcium and three micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D per 8.1 fluid ounces (fl oz) (240 milliliters, ml) on average.
They also contained around two grams (g) of protein per 8.1 fluid ounces (240 ml).
For comparison, the US Department of Agriculture says that whole milk contains about eight grams of protein per 8.1 fluid ounces (240 ml).
It also has about 306 mg of calcium and almost three mcg of vitamin D per serving.
The results showed that only 28 of the plant-based alternatives had similar or higher amounts 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 nutrition gap is why dairy manufacturers have spent years urging authorities to ban plant-based alternatives from calling themselves “milk.”
But in the draft guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released this yearthey said the products could continue to use the term ‘milk’.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 beverages do not claim to be from animals and that consumers are not confused by the difference.
But they did say the products should include a nutrient composition table showing how they compare to milk.
This disappointed the dairy industry, which had hoped for a stronger decision after former FDA head Dr. Scott Gottlieb declared in 2018 that “an almond does not produce lactate.”
Milk alternatives have gained popularity in recent years amid concerns about climate change, lactose intolerance, and animal welfare.
The FDA says that adults should consume around 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 around 1.5 liters of cow’s milk, equivalent to six glasses, to reach their protein target.
But if they were to rely solely on plant-based milk alternatives, they would need to get around 6.2 liters, equivalent to 25 glasses, to reach the same level.
Adults also need about 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day and 15 mcg of vitamin D.
Protein is essential for building and maintaining muscle, which puts repair work in the body and keeps someone in shape as they age.
Calcium and vitamin D are used to build strong, healthy bones and maintain nerves.
Results of the study were entered into the University of Minnesota Nutrition Coordination Center database, which contains dietary information on more than 19,000 foods.
Dr. Johnson added: “We know from our dietary evaluations for nutrition studies that consumers are choosing more plant-based milk alternatives.”
‘This project aimed to increase the number of these milk alternatives available in the Food Database of the Nutrition Coordination Center.
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 organized by the American Society for Nutrition, which took place this week in Boston, Massachusetts.