How healthy and sustainable are milk alternatives?

Sculpture by Matteo Pal

You can’t officially call it milk: it’s a “soy drink” or “drink.” Soy drink was the first vegetarian alternative to milk. This was followed by drinks based on rice, oats, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, coconut and, more recently, peas. Everything is very healthy, as the manufacturers say.

But most plant-based dairy drinks aren’t healthy. The Netherlands Nutrition Center says cow’s milk and other animal dairy products are an important source of protein, vitamins B2 and B12 and calcium in the Netherlands. For example, milk has an average of 3.5% protein. But the nutritional value of most milk alternatives doesn’t come close. They naturally contain little to no protein or any vitamins or minerals. The exceptions are soy milk and pea milk, which contain more protein, for example. But vitamins and minerals (calcium) naturally found in milk are also added. “It is better to drink water for most plant-based milk alternatives, which are more sustainable and healthier,” says Professor Kasper Hettinga of Wageningen University who specializes in milk and milk alternatives.

About the author
Loethe Olthuis has been writing about nutrition and sustainability since 1998 De Volkskrant He is the author of the book Brain and nonsense in the supermarket.

Vegan dairy drinks are artisanal products. To give them some texture and flavour, aromas, thickeners, acidity regulators, and even sugar and salt are often added. Not exactly unhealthy, but there is none of that in milk. After all, milk alternatives are expensive: sometimes they are just as expensive Three times the cost Like regular milk.

Less calories

However, plant-based drinks do have some health benefits. They usually contain much fewer calories than skim milk. Most of them contain some dietary fiber. It does not contain lactose, saturated fat and cholesterol. In addition, many plant-based drinks contain the same vitamins and minerals found naturally in cow’s milk. But check this out: No such additives are allowed in organic drinks, for example.

Why should you drink vegan dairy drinks? Because you love them. Or because you eat vegan. Plus, milk alternatives are just as versatile as milk. You can drink it, but you can also use it in your oatmeal cereal, baked goods, or smoothies.

In general, plant milk is more sustainable than cow’s milk, says Hettinga. from one Stady of the University of Oxford even produces a cup of cow’s milk with three times more carbon dioxide2 emissions from plant-based dairy alternatives. Plant-based dairy products also require much less land, fertilizer and water, He says Information organizations Milieu Centraal and Natuur en Milieu. However, there are significant differences between milk alternatives, Hettinga stresses. For example, various environmental, climatic and social problems can play a role in ingredient farming.

Black coffee is the best

Plant milks are also becoming increasingly popular in coffee, such as oatmeal lattes or soy cappuccinos. good idea? probably. You drink coffee not so much for your health as for pleasure. And according to Milieu Centraal, the effect of climate on coffee depends strongly on the milk we put in it. A plant-based milk alternative is better than regular milk, but black is best.

some milk plants Foam up fineet al barely. Oats and soybeans are the two most popular. But almost all vegan dairy drinks have a Barista version, which froths well and promises delicious cappuccinos just like real milk.

According to the International Tea and Coffee Academy, Barista Training Institute, you must purchase the Barista version to get a good coffee foam. More proteins and fats have been added, so that the “milk” foams better and stays stronger. However, there is often little difference between the original brew and its barista equivalent. For example, a standard oatmeal drink contains 2.9 percent fat and 1.1 percent protein: the barista version contains 3 percent fat and 1.1 percent protein. Other plant-based barista drinks also contain less fat and protein, while “real” frothed milk contains about 4 percent fat and protein.

“There hasn’t been any scientific research into this,” says Hettinga. This may have something to do with the fact that vegetable proteins have different properties than animal proteins, so you need less to get a good lather. Oats also contain soluble fiber that may provide extra stability. Stabilizers or foaming agents may be added to drinks. Finally, the manufacturers may have processed the ingredients in such a way that they lather well. You don’t see it in the ingredients list.

Plant-based milk alternatives

in Almond drink and hazelnut drink It only contains between 0.3 to 0.8 percent protein, although nuts contain more than 20 percent protein. The taste usually comes from the aromas. Plus, almonds are huge water consumers. For example, 6000 liters of water is used to produce 1 liter of almond drink. Particularly annoying because more than 80 percent of almonds grow in California, where they’ve been dry for decades. Hazelnuts mainly come from Türkiye, where they are picked by children. Fair Trade Reports.

rice drink It has a mild taste and is therefore often given to children. Don’t do it, the English Food Standards Agency warns, among others. Rice drink has no nutritional value and can be toxic arsenic worry. Rice is also very harmful to the environment, because It needs a lot of water It grows (between 2,000 and 10,000 liters per kilo of rice). Rice cultivation also emits a lot of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. According to the environmental organization Natuur en Milieu, rice drink has the largest water footprint of all plant-based milks after almond drink and the highest carbon dioxide content.2emissions.

Coconut drink It has a pleasant tropical taste, which almost always comes from the aromas rather than a few percentages of coconut. Coconut fat is an unhealthy saturated fat, but the drink contains less than 1 percent fat. Coconut cultivation It costs a lot of water and leads to deforestation and loss of biodiversity.

Soy drinkSoybeans used for animal feed come from South America, where huge amounts of forests are cut down for it. But the dairy soybeans come from Europe or Canada and are grown sustainably. Because the nutritional value is also comparable to milk Soy dairy is actually the most sustainable option.

Oatmeal Known for its neutral taste. Oats require little soil and water. The oats that Alpro uses in its oat drinks, among other things, are sustainably grown in Northern Europe. This makes oats one of the most sustainable plant-based dairy drinks out there. But oatmeal isn’t healthy either: it doesn’t contain any protein, for example.

Pea drinkYellow peas are an excellent source of high-quality vegetable protein. The taste is neutral. Pea drink contains almost as much protein as soy drink, and the environmental impact of peas grown in Europe is minimal.

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