Researchers say soy offers ‘most balanced nutritional profile’ compared to other dairy alternatives

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Researchers compared the unsweetened versions of the various plant-based dairy alternative beverages to determine what is the best substitute for dairy milk.  ©GettyImages/Bebenjy
Researchers compared the unsweetened versions of the various plant-based dairy alternative beverages to determine what is the best substitute for dairy milk. ©GettyImages/Bebenjy

Related tags Cow’s milk Nutrition

A new study from McGill University in Canada compared four of the most commonly consumed dairy alternative beverages (almond, soy, rice, and coconut) and determined that soy was the most comparable substitute to cow’s milk in terms of nutrition.

The report, which analyzes the nutritional differences of various plant-based alternatives, sought to identify the best substitute for cow’s milk, nutritionally speaking.

“Though they are popularly advertised as healthy and wholesome, little research has been done in understanding the nutritional implications of consuming these (dairy alternative) beverages in short term and long term,” the​ researchers stated.

“Further, consumers associate these alternatives to be a direct substitute of cow’s milk which might not be true in all cases.”

Researchers added that the rise of lactose intolerances has led to the increasing consumer migration to dairy alternative beverages.

Dairy milk serves as baseline

The main nutritional benefit of consuming cow’s milk is the ratio of protein, fat, and carbohydrates it offers.

Consumption of 100g of cow’s milk provides about 64 kcal of energy with 4.65g of carbohydrates giving 29% energy, 3.66g of fat yielding 46% energy and 3.28g of protein yielding 21% energy, according to the report.

“To act as an alternative source of milk, the selected food should have a similar energy distribution,”​ the study said.

Unsweetened versions of the various plant-based dairy alternatives were compared to conventional dairy milk based on a 240ml serving.

Nutritional profile comparisons

All of the dairy alternatives major nutrients were compiled and outlined with a focus on overall “energy distribution” based on a combination of fat, calcium, and protein.

The energy distribution of almonds, rice, and coconut samples were much less balanced.  Rice beverages were found to be “a very bad source of proteins and fat”​ since starch is its main source of energy and the saturated fat content in coconut was “very high which is generally associated with cardiovascular issues.”

In the case of almonds and soybean, the content of mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) is significantly higher compared to saturated fats. Both MUFA and PUFA were found to have beneficial health effects in controlling cardiovascular events and cancer formation, researchers added.

When it comes to calcium content, almond and soymilk had significantly higher levels than dairy milk per 100g, but this comparison would be misleading “as the total number of calories from 100g of almonds and soybean is also significantly higher than that of milk.”

To rectify this, researchers calculated the ‘weight of nutrient per kcal of energy’ and found that milk was still a better source of calcium (1.9 mg calcium/kcal) compared to almonds (0.46 mg calcium/kcal) and soybean (0.62 mg calcium/kcal).

Soy beverages were also found to have the most comparable amounts of vitamins such as phosphorus and potassium compared to cow’s milk.  

“It is quite clear that nutritionally soy is the best alternative for replacing cow’s milk in human diet,”​ researchers concluded.



Source: Journal of Food Science and Technology

"How well do plant based alternatives fare nutritionally compared to cow's milk?"

Authors: Sai Kranthi Vanga and Vijaya Raghavan

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