Over the recent years there has been a booming interest in the consumption of plant-based milk alternatives. Not only has the demand for milk alternatives increased but the varieties found in the supermarket aisles are endless. There are a lot of reasons why people would opt for plant-based options. A lot of people struggle with possible negative effects of lactose found in cow’s milk or are simply looking for lower calorie alternatives. Although plant-based milks are generally lower in calories than cow’s milk, they are also lower in protein. Be sure to check nutritional labels and decide what is best for your individual requirements.
Let’s take a deeper look into some plant-based options:
Nutrient profileSoy milk is made from soy beans which have an excellent nutrient profile. They are a source of plant-based protein and contain all of the essential amino acids. Soy milk contains healthy fats also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids while being low in saturated (unhealthy) fats.
In a study done by The Journal of Nutrition published by Oxford Academic, chronic soy milk consumption had modest, however significant blood pressure lowering effects in hypertensive patients. In terms of energy and protein content, soy milk tends to be the most similar to cow’s milk out of all the plant-based options.
Soy and hormones
Soy contains high amounts of isoflavones which is a type of plant estrogen 1 . The isoflavones can bind to estrogen receptors in the body 1 . In certain tissues it will mimic the effects of estrogen while in others it will block the effects of estrogen. This is because there are different types of estrogen receptors found in the body and the way in which they affect the target cells will depend on the type of receptor. The phytoestrogens found in soy are much weaker than human estrogen and as previously mentioned, may block the effects of estrogen. In a clinical trial performed in North Carolina it was found that women who ingested 900mg of soy isoflavones per day found “no significant changes in mean values for estrogenic effects or other laboratory measurements”. 900mg is also an impossible amount
of soy to consume on one day.
Contrary to popular belief, soy foods do not alter levels of testosterone in men 2 . Food’s rich in soy are high in nutrients such as B vitamins, potassium and magnesium 1 .
Soy and weight-loss
In a 12-week randomised trial of obese participants, the effects of soy-based meal replacements were compared with milk-based meal replacements. Subjects were put on hypo-caloric diets and after the 12-weeks it was found that those who consumed soy experienced greater weight-loss than those who consumed milk. Reductions in total cholesterol and triglyceride levels were also greater with the soy-based meal replacement.
Compared to most plant-based milks, almond milk is generally the lowest in calories. However, caloric content does differ significantly from brand to brand so it is best to read the nutritional labels before purchasing. Almond milk is a rich source of vitamin E which has both anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Due to its anti-oxidant properties, it is excellent for the immune system and can slow the ageing process of our cells. It also aids in repairing damaged cells as a result of UV rays from the sun.
Sick of paying R40.00 for a litre of almond milk? Here’s an easy recipe to make your own. Recipe yields 10x 1 cup servings and will last about a week in the fridge:
- 1 cup raw almonds, soaked overnight in water
- 5 cups filtered water
- 1 pinch sea salt
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- Add your almonds, water, salt and vanilla essence to a blender and blend until smooth
- Strain the mixture using a dish towel by laying the clean dish towel over a bowl, pouring over the almond milk and gathering up the corners. Squeeze until all of the liquid is extracted. Throw away the pulp (or it can be used in baked goods)
- Transfer to a bottle and store in the fridge
- For a sweetened version add 1-2 dates when blending the mixture
Compared to cow’s milk, oat milk contains more than half the calories and protein. Of the plant-based varieties it is generally the highest in calories with most of the calories coming from carbohydrates. It provides more vitamin B2 than cow’s milk which is one of the main vitamins required for ensuring adequate energy levels throughout the day.
Oats can absorb water easily and the end product has a creamy taste and texture. It is perfect for warm beverages as well as in baked goods.
Oats are naturally gluten free and therefore safe for those with gluten intolerance / celiac disease. However, oats are often produced at the same manufacturing site or in the same machines as other gluten-containing grains. Cross-contamination may occur and the product may contain some gluten. If you are gluten intolerant or suffer from celiac disease, be sure to check that the label stipulates the product is gluten free.
Due to the high fibre content of oats, oat milk promotes satiety and keeps one feeling fuller for longer. The soluble fibre found in oats known as beta-glucan is known for its cholesterol lowering properties and maintenance of adequate blood sugar levels.
Coconut milk is high in fat, particularly saturated fat. Unfortunately, this is the fat we want to consume minimally or in moderation. Per 100g of normal coconut milk you’re looking at about 173 calories and almost 17g of saturated fat. The reduced fat versions are much lower in calories with only about 73 calories per 100g and 7.3g of saturated fat. Coconut milk is however perfect for use in curries or pasta dishes as an alternative to cream. Pouring cream contains about 150 calories per 100g with 9.9 grams of saturated fats and thick cream contains roughly 435 calories and 32.2 grams of saturated fat per serving! Coconut milk is also a source of various vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, folate, magnesium and potassium.
One of the great things about coconut milk is that is can be used in so many ways! It adds creaminess and flavour to both sweet and savoury dishes. Here are some ideas for next time you’d like to go dairy free:1. Winter warmer oats bowl (Serves 1)
- 1/3 can reduced-fat coconut milk
- 1/3 cup rolled oats
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tsp coconut flakes
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp goji berries
- Bring the coconut milk to a boil in a small sauce-pan
- Stir in the oats and honey and turn down the heat
- Simmer until you’ve reached your desired consistency
- Top with coconut flakes, cinnamon and goji berries
- Serve warm and enjoy!
2. Vegan mashed sweet potatoes (Serves 6)
- 6 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
- ¾ cup reduced fat-coconut milk
- 3/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tbsp maple syrup (optional)
- Salt and pepper
- Boil the sweet potatoes for 20 minutes
- Drain and place back in the pot
- Add ½ a cup of the coconut milk, salt and pepper
- Mash until tender, add the rest of the milk and continue to mash until they’ve reached the desired consistency
- Stir in the ginger and maple syrup
- Taste and season as desired
1: The Nutrition Source. Straight Talk About Soy, Harvard School of Public Health, viewed 10 May 2021,https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/soy/#:~:text=Soy%20is%20unique%20in%20that,estrogenic%20or%20anti%2Destrogenic%20activity.
2: Hamilton-Reeves J, Vazquez G, et al. (2010). ‘Clinical studies show no effects of soy protein or isoflavones on reproductive hormones in men: results of a meta-analysis’. Journal of Fertility and Sterility, 94(3).
Written by: Nicole Keeling – Registered Dietitian, @cape.townfoods