Should you swap standard cow’s milk in your diet for one of the many plant-based alternatives? We investigate…
From your morning tea or coffee, to bowls of cereal, porridge and more, milk is found in lots of different parts of our daily diets. Over the years, we have seen a massive increase in the different milk alternatives appearing on the shelves of supermarkets, all claiming to have various health benefits, but what is true and what is just a marketing ploy? Should we be swapping cow’s milk for one of its plant-based cousins?
Firstly, in some cases, there are medical reasons for removing standard milk from our diets. “For most of us, there are very few reasons for replacing milk in our diet”, BDA spokesperson, Aisling Pigott explains: “A milk allergy (which is a reaction to the protein in milk) or lactose intolerance (an inability to break down milk sugars) are commonly cited reasons for replacing milk – although these are relatively common in children, most youngsters will grow out of this during childhood. Similarly, lactose intolerance is rare, however, some people may develop secondary lactose intolerance after a period of illness, particularly diarrhoea.” These are the most common medical reasons for cutting milk from your diet, and in these cases, you may have been advised of some alternatives to try.
If you remove medical advice from the reasoning behind cutting out milk, the next most common issue is ethics – and this is becoming more and more prevalent, as the dairy industry comes under scrutiny for the conditions and methods used in milk production. “Some people may choose to replace milk for ethical reasons,” Aisling continued: “For anybody who is excluding milk from their diet, milk alternatives (fortified with calcium) are really important to ensure calcium intake and contribute to protein requirements.”
Also, some people prefer the taste of some of the milk alternatives to cow’s milk – so, what are the health benefits that you may receive if you decide to move on to one of the other kinds of milk? Aisling explains: “From a health perspective, there are no benefits of excluding milk from your diet, however as with anything, variety is key. Alternating your sources of calcium, food choices and milk intake is certainly not going to be harmful providing you are aware that most milk alternatives are not good sources of energy or protein and make sure you are choosing milks that are fortified with calcium.”
What should you try?
So, what is available if you are looking to cut down, or cut out cow’s milk from your diet? “Milk alternatives include soya milk, oat milk, almond milk, coconut milk and rice milk. A word of caution about rice milk which contains very small amounts of harmful products, which may not be appropriate for children,” Aisling explains. Soy milk and oat milk are good low-fat options, almond milk is fortified with vitamin B12, and coconut milk can be high in saturated fat, but is a good alternative for baking, as it doesn’t have an overpowering flavour. One of the issues with these alternatives is that they don’t always mix well into hot drinks, but hemp milk is a good choice for this, as it is less likely to curdle.
So, whether you can’t consume cow’s milk, or prefer not to, there are plenty of tasty and nutritional alternatives, meaning that you don’t have to cut out those morning teas and coffees!
Aisling Pigott is a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association. For more information, visit bda.uk.com