From our post on milks and the environment, we found that oat and soy milk alternatives are the best all-rounders in terms of environmental impact, but which is the healthiest? All plant-based milk alternatives contain zero cholesterol which is an instant bonus, but how do rice, soy, oat and almond milk stack up in other health-promoting areas?
Low in calories, only 12 to 25 kcal per 100 ml (9).
High levels of alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E): a powerful antioxidant that can protect cells from cancer-promoting and CVD-promoting effects of free radicals (12).
Contains arabinose, which has prebiotic properties benefitting the gut (11).
Low average protein content ranging from 0.31 to 0.59 g per 100ml (9).
Contains phytosterols, which help to lower cholesterol and provides anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects (10).
A whopping 89% of the total energy in rice comes from carbohydrates which is not as balanced a nutritional serving as the competitors (13).
Lowest protein content at 0.28 g per 100 ml (9).
Highest protein content, with a range from 2.50 to 3.16 g per 100 ml (9).
High levels of mono-unsaturated fatty acids and poly-unsaturated fatty acids which help in controlling cardiovascular health and cancer formation (7,8).
Contains lectins, which significantly reduce glucose absorption in the intestines, lowering overall caloric intake (6).
Has isoflavones which help to protect against the effects of cancer, cardiovascular events, and osteoporosis (5).
Soy includes phytosterols which have cholesterol-lowering properties (4).
High levels of phytic acid which can bind to calcium, reducing the amount that is able to be absorbed (bioavailability) (1).
Contains beta-glucans which reduce LDL cholesterol when consumed at or above 2.9 g per day (3).
A decent source of quality protein with a good amino acid balance (2).
Similarly to soy milk, oat milk contains phytates, reducing calcium bioavailability, however, the effect is less so in oat milk compared to soy (1).
To sum this up, one of the research papers looking into the evidence behind the healthiest milk alternative concluded their thoughts like this: ‘It is quite clear that nutritionally soy milk is the best alternative …. But, various issues including the “beany flavor” and presence of anti-nutrients are major hurdles.’
What to munch:
I think this is a fair summary - soy seems to be nutritionally the best if you enjoy the flavour and eat a diverse diet to complement it, again oat milk seems like a great option second to soy. Who knew you could benefit your planet and your health in one go, it seems like as good a time as ever to start introducing them into our diets or changing over from other milks.
I hope you learnt something new reading this article, what do you have to add to this brief list of benefits and what milk do you enjoy out of the above?
1) Graf, E. (1983). Calcium binding to phytic acid. Journal of Agricultural and Food 576 Chemistry, 31, 851–855.
2) Sethi, S., Tyagi, S. K., & Anurag, R. K. (2016). Plant-based milk alternatives an emerging segment of functional beverages: a review. Journal of food science and technology, 53(9), 3408–3423. doi:10.1007/s13197-016-2328-3
3) Othman, R. A., Moghadasian, M. H., Jones, P. J., Butt, M. S., Tahir-Nadeem, M., Khan, M., et 648 al. (2011). Cholesterol-lowering effects of oat β-glucan. Nutrition Reviews, 69, 299–309.
4) Fukui K, Tachibana N, Wanezaki S. Isoflavone free soy protein prepared by column chromatography reduces plasma cholesterol in rats. J Agric Food Chem. 2002;50(20):5717–5721.
5) Omoni AO, Aluko RE. Soybean foods and their benefits: potential mechanisms of action. Nutr Rev. 2005;63(8):272–283.
6) Santiago, J. G., Levy-Benshimol, A., & Carmona, A. (1993). Effect of Phaseolus vulgaris lectins on glucose absorption, transport, and metabolism in rat everted intestinal sacs. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 4, 426–430.
6) Kris-Etherton PM, Committee ftN (1999) Monounsaturated fatty acids and risk of cardiovascular disease. Circulation 100:1253–1258.
7) Tavazzi L, Maggioni AP, Marchioli R, Barlera S, Franzosi MG, Latini R, Lucci D, Nicolosi GL, Porcu M, Tognoni G, Gissi HFI (2008) Effect of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in patients with chronic heart failure (the GISSI-HF trial): a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet (London, England) 372:1223–1230
8) Chalupa-Krebzdak, S., Long, C. J., & Bohrer, B. M. (2018). Nutrient density and nutritional value of milk and plant-based milk alternatives. International Dairy Journal. doi:10.1016/j.idairyj.2018.07.018
9) Biswas S, Sircar D, Mitra A, De B. Phenolic constituents and antioxidant properties of some varieties of Indian rice. Nutr Food Sci. 2011;41(2):123–135.
10) Mandalari G, Nueno-Palop C, Bisignano G, Wickham MSJ, Narbad A. Potential prebiotic properties of almond (Amygdalus communis L.) seeds. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2008;74(14):4264–4270.
11) National Institutes of Health. (2018b). Vitamin E - Fact sheet for health professionals. Retrieved July 7, 2019, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessionals
12) Vanga, S. K., & Raghavan, V. (2017). How well do plant based alternatives fare nutritionally compared to cow’s milk? Journal of Food Science and Technology, 55(1), 10–20.