[Article updated on 19/09/2023]
For reasons of personal taste or health, more and more of you are turning to plant-based milks. Almond milk, soy milk, hazelnut milk…
Before reading on
I’m not an expert in this field, but I am passionate about nutrition and health.
The articles you’ll find on my site are the result of in-depth research that I’d like to share with you. However, I would like to stress that I am not a health professional and that my advice should in no way replace that of a qualified physician. I’m here to guide you, but it’s important that you consult a professional for specific questions or medical concerns. Your well-being is important. So be sure to consult the appropriate experts and take the best possible care of yourself.
But what are these milks worth? Is it really a good alternative to cow’s milk?
“Plant Milks” or “Plant Drinks”?
Please note, to avoid any confusion: the names “milk” and dairy products (cheese, yogurt, cream and butter) are reserved for products of animal origin. Since plant-based milks are not of animal origin, we must now speak of plant-based drinks, apart from two historical exceptions: coconut milk and almond milk. It was the European Union that decided to bang on the table and clarify all that. So why such precision?
Because there is often confusion. 1 in 2 French people think that plant-based milks provide the same nutrients as milk. We might as well say it straight away: IT’S FALSE! Plant-based drinks have nothing to do with any milk of animal origin.
What benefits do plant-based drinks have?
A plant-based drink is a lot of water (between 80 and 90% in commercially available recipes) and seeds (soy, almond, spelled for example) ground very finely and mixed with water. The result gives a white and liquid appearance reminiscent of milk…hence their name.
But the resemblance ends there. The composition is completely different.
Firstly, there is no lactose or milk protein! A godsend for those intolerant to milk or milk proteins. No risk of allergies and bloating. More generally we can say that thanks to this, plant milks are much easier to digest than cow’s milk.
These plant-based drinks are also very useful if you need to limit your cholesterol intake: unlike cow’s milk, there are no animal fats.
Finally, more generally, these drinks are low in calories: between 40 and 80 Kcal per 100ml. It’s not huge. But ultimately it’s not that far from semi-skimmed milk which is 50 Kcal per 100ml.
Disadvantages for plant-based drinks?
These plant-based drinks have drawbacks and that is why they should not be confused with milk of animal origin.
These drinks naturally have neither the vitamins of milk (A, D, E, B12), nor proteins and nor calcium. And when we see “rich in vitamins” or “rich in calcium” written on the cartons of plant-based drinks, it’s because the manufacturers add them. For calcium, it is always synthetic calcium, calcium which is far from being bad for health but less “effective” than the calcium that can be found in milk. Same thing for vitamins. When it comes to proteins, on the other hand, only soy-based vegetable drinks have similar intakes. For everything else, the contributions are much lower. As a result, if you only drink this in the morning, you risk a craving at 10 a.m.! Overall, plant-based milks are much less nutritious than milks of animal origin.
Can they be given to young children?
Not at all ! These plant-based milks are not nourishing enough for children, especially babies, who are still growing. They cannot therefore be substitutes for breast milk or infant formula. Moreover, on this point, the French authorities regularly give booster shots; in fact, there have unfortunately been cases of babies suffering from malnutrition because the parents had swapped breast milk with vegetable milk!
And for soy, which is one of the most common vegetable drinks, should we be careful?
They say it’s not very good, especially for women.
There are regular controversies around soy: it is accused of being a potential endocrine disruptor, that is to say that it disrupts our hormones. Some people do not recommend it for pregnant women and children under three years old because it would contain too much estrogen, a female hormone, which could ultimately cause cancer… In short, these are only hypotheses, the entire scientific community is far from agreeing on the subject.
My position is simple: I think we need to play down everything we hear as alarmist talk about soy. Integrated into a balanced and varied diet, it has clearly more advantages than disadvantages. As a precaution, we recommend 2 to 3 soy-based products per day for adults and 1 per day for pregnant or breastfeeding women, but no adverse effects have ever been observed. So no, I do not recommend soy-based vegetable drinks.
And some plant-based drinks have specific characteristics?
The contributions are different depending on the juice you choose
- Almond juice – the star of plant juices – provides vitamins, iron and especially fiber;
- Walnut juice is ideal for cases of constipation (it is very rich in fiber!);
- Rice juice during diarrhea;
- Hazelnut juice is rich in magnesium and calcium.
And there are plenty more. Feel free to explore all of this.
Final advice: always prefer “no added sugar” cartons…even if it means enjoying a healthy drink, you might as well avoid too much sugar!
To sum up :
- Do not confuse plant “milk” with milk of animal origin;
- Avoid giving these plant-based drinks to young children;
- Each plant-based drink has its virtues.