A recent study has tried to glimpse, at a nutritional level, what would be the best vegetable drink to use as an alternative to typical cow's milk.
Currently, alternatives to cow's milk or "milks" from plants have begun to take over the market using the incentive of being a good alternative to lifelong milk. As you may already know, recently a ruling by the Luxembourg Court of Justice prohibited calling soy derivatives “milk”, something that is already applied to other vegetable drinks. Therefore, we will use that term from now on.
But, nutritionally, what is really the best plant drink? The same question was asked by doctoral student Sai Kranthi Vanga with his supervisor Vijaya Raghavan, from the Department of Engineering at McGill University. His findings, after comparing the four most popular plant drinks today according to his criteria (soy, almond, rice and coconut) have been published in the Journal of Food Science & Technology.
The best vegetable drink, nutritionally speaking
Although being able to classify plant drinks or "juices" with the title of "best vegetable drink" is somewhat risky, these researchers have tried to be as objective as possible using pros and cons in terms of nutritional value.
Although it is true that currently the diversity of vegetable drinks on the market is enormous (almond, rice, sesame, coconut, oats, canary seed, hazelnut, sunflower seeds, quinoa, spelled ...), the researchers have considered the four “Most popular”, which for that matter have been the soy drink, the almond drink, the rice drink and the coconut drink.
According to their findings, the soy drink would be the winner by far, being the best alternative to cow's milk, compared to the other three vegetable drinks studied. It should be noted, however, that all the drinks studied were versions without sugar and the comparison was given at the service level of 240 ml of each type of drink.
The Nutritional Profile of Soy Drink
The researchers responsible for this work highlight the high content of phytonutrients, such as isoflavones. Likewise, it is known that this type of vegetable drink has been consumed for almost four decades, so it has been possible to study a lot about it.
Among the notable pros is its richness in protein (similar to ordinary milk, about 8 g of protein per serving) and its balanced general nutritional balance compared to cow's milk, with a fat and carbohydrate content equivalent to half of the content of cow's milk. Also, the calcium content would be similar between both drinks.
On the contrary, the researchers highlight its "bean flavor", possible allergies to soy, and the presence of so-called "antinutrients", which could alter the absorption of healthy nutrients, as happens with other legumes. Although this is a controversial issue that currently requires more studies in this regard.
The nutritional profile of the rice drink
For its part, the rice drink stands out for being able to be consumed by individuals allergic to lactose, soy and almonds.
As pros, the researchers highlight the sweet taste of this drink and a caloric and calcium content level similar to cow's milk (158 kcal and 130 kcal respectively).
As cons, the rice drink has a quite unbalanced nutritional profile, with a content of more than twice the carbohydrates compared to cow's milk, and a significantly low level of protein and fat. For this reason, the researchers advise its consumption with care, because if it is used as an alternative to cow's milk, there is a risk of reaching malnutrition, especially in infants as reported.
The nutritional profile of coconut drink
On the other hand, we have the coconut drink, a type of vegetable drink very popular in Asia and South America, whose flavor makes it attractive for consumption.
As pros, the researchers also highlight its flavor, and its low caloric level compared to cow's milk (45 kcal compared to 158 kcal). Likewise, they suggest that the consumption of coconut drink can reduce the levels of LDL or "bad cholesterol", an analytical parameter associated with an increase in cardiovascular risk.
As cons, the coconut drink seems to reduce its nutritional value if it is stored for more than two months without being consumed. It also stands out for its low carbohydrate content, its zero-protein content and its richness in saturated fats. As with the rice drink, this would imply a nutritional imbalance compared to the parameters of cow's milk.
The nutritional profile of the almond drink
Finally, there is the almond drink, which seems to represent a good alternative for researchers at the level of nutritional balance.
As pros, in addition to the balanced content between its macronutrient content (fat, protein and carbohydrates), the researchers highlight its taste and low-calorie content. Likewise, the fats that the almond drink contains are monounsaturated, which are currently considered beneficial in the search for weight control or loss.
As cons, the researchers only highlight a possible allergy to almonds.
Cow's milk: benefits and drawbacks of its consumption
Currently the consumption of cow's milk is high throughout the world, given its nutritional balance between fats, carbohydrates and proteins. It also contains other types of nutrients to take into account, such as calcium, but it should be noted that all the vegetable drinks analyzed in this work contain similar levels of this micronutrient in comparison.
In addition, there are other important sources of calcium at the dietary level to consider, such as sardines, nuts (almonds, hazelnuts), shellfish, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans, broad beans), green leafy vegetables (chard, spinach), fish (cod) ... the alternatives to the consumption of cow's milk, if you are looking to increase dietary calcium, are very diverse.
On the other hand, cow's milk and its derivatives contain a wide range of proteins that are beneficial to the body.
Regarding the drawbacks of consuming cow's milk, the high presence of microorganisms such as Salmonella spp and Escherichia coli O157: H7 in milk stands out, associated with multiple infectious outbreaks throughout the world (hence the need to process it and not consume it of natural form").
On the other hand, allergy to cow 's milk is increasingly common worldwide, affecting 3.5% of children (exceeding the percentages of allergies to peanuts and other nuts). At 5-6 years, 35% of children overcome their allergy, and by 16 years almost 80% are no longer allergic. However, lactose intolerance is a different case, affecting 15-75% of individuals worldwide, a percentage that varies by race, eating habits, and gastrointestinal health. In fact, some studies suggest that up to 80% of individuals of African origin and up to 100% of Asian American and indigenous individuals would be lactose intolerant.
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