How to Choose a Plant Based Milk

I’m often asked by clients about plant based milks. Four years ago I gave up dairy and soya products while breastfeeding my son who had cows milk protein allergy (CMPA). Now there are far more milks to choose from, and they are much more easily available. Most high street coffee shops and cafes will now have at least one dairy free version available. Lots of options though, means lots of choice. So how do you choose a plant based milk?

How to choose a plant based milk

  • There are lots of different types of ‘milk’, primarily made from nuts, coconut, oats, soya⁠.
  • They all taste pretty different, so shop around until you find a milk you like. ⁠
  • Try and avoid those with carrageenan as there is some evidence this is a stomach irritant.⁠
  • Rudehealth hazelnut milk is delicious for making hot chocolate, but isn’t fortified with calcium⁠.
  • Choose one that is unsweetened.
  • Oatly Whole and barista foam really well, and are great for making coffee. They also don’t split and curdle in tea.⁠
  • ⁠Infants that have CMPA can be changed onto a plant based milk such as @oatly whole (which is fortified and high in fat) from 12 months provided they are growing well.⁠
  • 50% of babies with CMPA are also allergic to soya, as the protein structure is very similar.
  • When you chose a milk for children over 12 months, look for an unsweetened milk, that is high in calories, fat and protein, and is fortified with calcium and iodine. Keep reading to see which I recommend and why.

Iodine

Until recently iodine has been largely thought to be sufficient in our diets. However, research has raised concerns that pregnant and breastfeeding women are at risk of deficiency. Dairy products and fish are iodine rich foods, so people following a vegan diet are at risk of iodine deficiency.

Depending on your life stage, people need different amounts of iodine per day.

  • Children 1-8years need 90 µg
  • Children 9-13 years need 120 µg
  • Teenagers 14-18 years and adults need 150µg
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women need 200 µg

See my comparison table below to see which milks contain iodine and how much.

Calcium

Calcium in our diets is incredibly important for our bone, teeth and muscle health. For many people most of their calcium requirement comes from eating dairy products. Therefore, it can be difficult to get enough calcium with dairy exclusion. If you are following a dairy-free diet, I recommend looking for a plant based milk that is fortified with calcium for your main milk.⁠

The BDA (Association of UK Dieticians) has a really handy table detailing calcium requirements so you can check if you are getting enough.

Nutrients in Milk

While micronutrients are important in milk alternatives, so are macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat and protein). For children milk is an important nutrient source, and so consideration of the levels of macronutrients in the milk is important.

While you might decide as an adult to look for a lower fat and calorie alternative, it is different for children. Over the age of 12 months, when cow’s milk and plant based alternatives can be introduced, it is generally recommended that you look for one which resembles cow’s milk as closely as possible in terms of macronutrients. I’ve combined a handy table below of the majority of milks on the market and compared their energy (Kilo Calories), protein, fat, calcium and iodine content. I’ve ordered these in order of preference based on their overall macronutrient and micronutrient content. You can see that full fat cow’s milk has highest levels of macronutrients when energy, fat, and protein content are taken together compared with the other milk alternatives. However, other milks do have higher calcium levels and added iodine.

Here is a handy list of the commonly available milks and their macro and micronutrient content per 100mls of milk (approximately a 1/3 of a cup).

Per 100ml of milkCalcium (mg)Iodine (µg)Fat (g)Calories KcalProtein (g)
Plenish organic unsweetened soya 145302.9473.7
Oatly Whole 12022.52.8571
Marks and Spencer’s unsweetened soya 120302393.4
Alpro Fresh Original Soya Milk Alternative 12022.51.8393
Plenish organic unsweetened almond 15330.083321
Marks and Spencer’s oat 120301.6490.5
Plenish organic unsweetened oat 145301410.4
Marks and Spencer’s sweetened almond 120301.1390.5
Marks and Spencer’s coconut 120301.9290.2
Marks and Spencer’s unsweetened almond 120301.1170.4
Full fat cows milk 12404693.5
The Mighty Society unsweetened pea mylk 18602353.2
KoKo dairy free unsweetened chilled12001.3150.7
Rebel Kitchen whole 005.5750.8
Rude Health Ultimate Organic Almond003.2381.5
Rude Health Chilled Organic Almond001530.3

Which is the best milk for my child?

I choose a plant based milk that has high protein, fat, energy and is fortified with calcium and iodine. Top of my comparison table are Plenish organic unsweetened soya, Oatly Whole, Marks and Spencer’s unsweetened soya  and Marks and Spencer’s unsweetened soya. While you might have seen others recommending The Mighty Pea Society pea mylk, this has excellent levels of calcium and protein, but does not contain iodine, and only a moderate energy content. Similarly, Rebel Kitchen has the highest energy, but contains no calcium or iodine, and is low protein.

Have you read my blog about whether dairy is healthy?

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