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3 milk in glass containers with a blue background

What were once considered to be novelty products, plant-based milk alternatives are now a norm in the grocery store. Whether you choose to consume plant-based milk alternatives due to health complications, personal beliefs, or purely based on preference, deciding on the best plant-based beverage for you or your family can be challenging. There are a lot of factors to consider  such as  protein and calorie content.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s focus on the main contenders: rice, soy, oat, and almond milk. Furthermore, we will only be focusing on the nutritional components of these products. Please keep in mind that taste and price are factors to consider when choosing a plant-based beverage.

Rice Milk

Rice milk is commonly sought out by consumers who are allergic to both soy and nuts. Rice milk is relatively comparable to cow’s milk in terms of calories, calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D.1 Rice milk is actually higher than cow’s milk in terms of iron content.1 However, one drawback of rice milk is that it lacks an adequate amount of protein. Rice milk contains 1 gram of protein per 8 oz serving.1

Soy Milk

Soy milk compares to cow’s milk in terms of the amount of protein found in soy milk. An 8 oz. serving of soy milk offers 7-8 grams of protein.1 Soy milk is also rich in calcium, vitamin D, and iron.1 Soy milk also contains vitamin B12,2 a vitamin often under consumed in vegans and vegetarians.

Oat Milk

If iron is of main concern to you, then consider oat milk. Oat milk (1.8 mg) is higher in iron compared to cow’s milk (0.05 mg) and other plant-based beverages. When comparing calcium content, oat milk contains more calcium (350 mg) than cow’s milk (293). Oat milk is also rich in vitamin’s A and D, but is lacking in terms of vitamin B12. Lastly, oat milk is low in the category of protein content (4 g/ 8 oz. serving)

Almond Milk

bowl of milk with almonds next the bowl and a yellow napkin with various almonds

If you are looking for a low calorie plant-based milk alternative, almond milk is the option for you.1 Almond milk is also a good source of calcium (450 mg) compared to cow’s milk (293 mg).1 Almond milk is also a comparable option in terms of vitamins A and D. However, if you are looking for a beverage that is a good source of protein, almond milk is not the product for you (1 gram protein/8 oz. serving).

Bottom Line

Plant-based beverages are not a “one size fits all” for consumers. There is not one plant-based beverage that will meet will every consumer’s needs. It’s important to do your research on plant-based milk alternatives in order to ensure that your beverage of choice meets your personal nutritional needs because not all plant-based milk alternatives are created equal.

Figure 1. Comparison of plant-based beverages to 2% cow’s milk.1

Note– 2% milk was used as the cow’s milk comparison

Authors: Susan Zies, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Wood County and Brittany Kralik, BGSU Dietetic Intern with Wood County Extension Office.

Reviewer: Margaret Jenkins, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Clermont County

Sources:

  1. Bridges M. Moo-ove over cow’s milk: the rise of plant-based dairy alternatives. Practical Gastroenterology. https://med.virginia.edu/ginutrition/wp-content/uploads/sites/199/2014/06/January-18-Milk-Alternatives.pdf. 2018 Jan. Accessed: 2019 Jan 28.
  2. Wright KC. The coupe in the diary aisle. Today’s Dietitian. 2018 Sept;20(9):28. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0918p28.shtml

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