The popularity of non-dairy milk alternatives has soared in recent years, providing a variety of options for those seeking alternatives to cow’s milk due to dietary restrictions, allergies, or personal preferences. While these plant-based milk options can replicate the taste and texture of dairy milk, a recent nutritional analysis from the University of Minnesota has highlighted some key differences in terms of protein, calcium, and vitamin D content.
Understanding the Nutritional Variations:
The study analysed 237 non-dairy milk substitutes and found that only 12% of them contained comparable or higher levels of calcium, vitamin D, and protein compared to cow’s milk. Cow’s milk has been a traditional source of these essential nutrients in the American diet, making this discrepancy a point of consideration for consumers.
Impact on Public Health:
Underconsumption of calcium and vitamin D has been identified as a public health concern by the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Given the widespread popularity of non-dairy milk options, there’s an increased need for individuals to ensure they’re obtaining adequate amounts of these nutrients from other sources.
Plant-Based Milk Fortification:
The study revealed that a majority (69%) of almond-, oat-, and soy-based milks were fortified with calcium and vitamin D, making it relatively easy for consumers to find options with comparable fortification levels to dairy milk. However, these alternatives often fall short in terms of protein content compared to cow’s milk.
Abigail Johnson, PhD, RD, assistant professor and associate director of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health Nutrition Coordinating Center, suggests that consumers should seek out plant-based milk alternatives that explicitly list calcium and vitamin D as ingredients. Additionally, individuals are encouraged to incorporate other sources of calcium and vitamin D into their diets to meet their nutritional needs.
Practical Steps for Consumers:
– Carefully read labels to identify non-dairy milk products fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and/or protein.
– Increase protein intake through lean meats, eggs, fish/seafood, beans, nuts, seeds, lentils, chickpeas, whole grains, tofu/tempeh, edamame, and other plant-based protein sources.
– Prioritize calcium-rich foods such as dairy products (for dairy eaters), tahini, sardines, beans, dark leafy greens like spinach and kale, and fortified non-dairy milks and yogurts.
– Include vitamin D sources in your diet, such as mushrooms, fatty fish like salmon, fortified non-dairy milks, and soy products like tofu.
As the popularity of non-dairy milk alternatives continues to rise, understanding the nutritional differences compared to cow’s milk becomes crucial for maintaining a balanced diet. By making informed choices and incorporating a variety of nutrient-rich foods, individuals can enjoy the benefits of plant-based milks while ensuring they meet their nutritional needs for calcium, vitamin D, and protein.