12 January - 20 June 2016

Soya milk is the best plant-based cow’s milk alternative

A comparison of the top four commercially available plant-based milks, published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology, has indicated that soya milk may be the best substitute for the dietary role and nutritional profile of cows’ milk.

A comparison of the top four commercially available plant-based milks, published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology, has indicated that soya milk may be the best substitute for the dietary role and nutritional profile of cows’ milk.

The term “plant-based milk” is used to represent a fluid taking the place of animal milk in a consumer’s diet.  Whilst there are many types available, the study selected a series of brands of the four most common plant-based alternatives: soya, almond, rice and coconut. The authors of the review, based at McGill University, Canada, used data from product packaging and the USDA National Nutrient Database to collate a comparative list of the main

According to the study, Almond milk was primarily introduced as an alternative to those suffering from cow’ milk allergy and is popular in North America and Europe.  Vanga et al. note that almonds are high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) which are thought to be helpful in weight management and to reduce harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the body. For the brands tested, almond milk was found to contain the lowest calorific content (30 to 50 kcal per 240ml, median 35 kcal) and a median calcium level of 330mg per 240ml. The study indicates this is artificially high due to additions to mimic cow’s milk levels. The review notes that the good antioxidant levels in almonds are reflected in the milk with vitamin E and A levels fulfilling 10%-50% and 10%- 30% of estimated average requirements respectively.

Vanga et al. state that soya milk is “widely consumed for its health benefits primarily attributed to the presence of isoflavones” and their potential anti-cancer properties. Previous studies have found however that the taste and the “presence of anti-nutritional factors” in soya beans and products has caused a decline in consumption in favor of almond milk.  In the brands tested, the median energy value was 95kcal/240ml with a mean protein content of 8.71 ± 1.6g/240ml, this being the highest of the four milk types tested. Fat content of soya milk was found to have an average of 4.35 ± 1.4 g/240ml. Soya is the only plant-based alternative which “contains comparable amounts of nutrients” to cow’s milk and although lower in calories, has a similar balance of carbohydrates vs. fats and protein levels (8.71g per 240ml of soya milk, with cows’ milk at 8.11g). They note however that soya allergies, as with milk allergies, are caused by the protein component.

The study indicates that as rice milk is lactose free, it is ideal for those suffering from lactose intolerance and can be used where almond or soya allergies are present. Previous studies have shown however that if cow’s milk is just replaced with rice milk, malnutrition can occur due to the “varied difference in the nutrient profile”. The study states that while rice milk is rich in carbohydrates (23 – 27g per 240ml), proteins and fat content is minimal.

Finally, Vanga et al. looked at coconut milk. Previous studies have shown that consumption can increase High-density lipoprotein levels which can help in reducing LDL levels and the review indicates that this is due to the presence of lauric acid. The researchers note that coconut milk has a low calorific level, median 45kcal per240ml, and that most of the calories are provided by saturated fats as there is no protein and only low levels of carbohydrates.

In discussion, Vanga et al.  reiterate that the increased demand for plant milk is often associated with lactose intolerance but to be able to act as an alternative to cow’s milk, other milks should have a similar energy distribution to cow’s milk where 100g gives around 64kcal energy split 29%, 46% and 21% from carbohydrates, fat and protein respectively. The study states that this energy distribution is much more balanced than milk from almonds, rice and coconuts and that cow’s milk is also an important source of calcium, especially for the young, but that calcium is often added to the plant-based milks to mimic cow’s milk levels. The researchers note that, apart from coconut milk, the plant -based milks contain “comparable quantities” of the minerals found in cow’s milk (typically 50-70%) but for vitamins, only soya milk has similar amounts.

In conclusion, Vanga et al. indicate it is “quite clear” that soya milk is the “best alternative for replacing cow’s milk in the human diet” but again note several issues including the flavour and the presence of “anti-nutrients” as being reasons why other alternatives are used. They state that although almond milk has a balanced nutrient profile, it is not as nutrient rich as cow’s milk and so other dietary sources need to be used to replace the missing nutrients. They add that while rice and coconut milk have a “limited nutrient diversity” they do provide options for consumers where allergies prevent consumption of cow’s, soya or almond milk.

RSSL's Product and Ingredient Innovation Team, has considerable experience in re-formulating products to provide more healthy options including low salt, low sugar versions and using pre- and probiotics.  Using RSSL can help speed up your development cycle considerably. To find out more please contact Customer Services telephone 0118 918 4076 or e-mail enquiries@rssl.com

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