Top tips to transition to plant-based milk & to choose your favourite one
What is plant-based milk?
Plant-based milk is a dairy alternative that is particularly interesting as part of a vegan or vegetarian diet. Plant-based milks are made from plant-based foods such as soy, almond, rice, chickpeas, hazelnut, coconut, quinoa, oat, hemp, sprout pea, macadamia but can also contain additional flavours such as vanilla, chocolate…
Why is it important to carefully select your plant-based milk as a vegan?
As part of a vegan diet, dairy products are not consumed. Therefore, you are also missing some benefits from dairy that you can’t find in dairy alternatives.
Cow milk indeed contains one key mineral, calcium (119 mg per 100g) which you won’t find in plant-based milk. Calcium is indeed essential for your bone and teeth health but it also participates in muscle contraction, the transmission of nerves impulse, or blood clotting.
Of course, you can also find calcium, in vegetables, fruits, or nuts but it could not be enough to meet your daily requirements. Therefore, selecting plant-based milk with calcium could participate in your calcium intake.
Calcium Daily Requirements for adults (ANSES 2021)
From 18 to 24 years old (women and men): 1000mg
From 25 years old (women and men): 950mg
But cow milk also contains another mineral, Iodine (17,9 ug per 100g). Iodine is especially important for the synthesis of thyroid hormones, and growth. Therefore you need to have an adequate daily consumption of iodine through fortified plant-based milk, seaweed consumption, iodised salt, or dietary supplement.
Iodine Daily requirements for Adults (ANSES 2021)
From 18 years old ( women and men): 150 ug
Finally, cow milk also contains a small proportion of vitamin B12 which contributes to your daily intake. Vitamin B12 is absent from plant-based products. However, it is a very important vitamin as it participates in the synthesis of red blood cells, but also in neural functions. Therefore, as a vegan, consumption of Vitamin B12 fortified products is necessary and/or taking supplementation.
Vitamin B12 Desired intake (ANSES 2021)
From 18 years old (women and men): 4 ug
Pregnant women: 4.5ug
Breastfeeding woman: 5ug
A lot of plant-based milks are now fortified. Therefore, they could contribute to your daily intake.
How to transition to plant-based milk?
If you want to progressively transition to a vegetarian or vegan diet, or simply removing some dairy products, switching your milk can be one of the first steps you can take.
In theory, it is easy as you will just have to switch your cow milk with your favourite plant-based milk, in the same quantities.
However, the main blocking point could be the taste. If you are wondering if you will notice a difference with your cow milk, the answer is yes. Plant-based milks have a different taste than cow milk. Even between two oat milks from different brands, you will notice a difference. So how may I progressively transition to plant-based milk?
A step by step process for cow milk lovers
You need to identify your goal Ex: I want to introduce plant-based milk but also to keep cow milk.
Start with soy milk If you are looking for a product with a taste like cow milk, I advise you to look at soy milk. They have a similar texture, even if the taste is stronger. Another alternative could be plant-based milk closer to cow milk taste such as "Mais ça j'aime" from Evernat.
Replace progressively your cow milk with plant-based milk. Start by using it in baking or cooking as the flavour will be less strong. Then, you can try it in your coffee or with your breakfast cereals.
Be patient and try different brands I recommend you to try different soy milk brands as they could have very different tastes. The more kinds of milk you try, the most likely you will find your favourite one.
A step by step process for taste adventurers
You need to identify your goal Ex: I am happy to start using plant-based milk with my morning cereals and for cooking.
Try different categories If you are happy to experiment, just try different categories of milk that you can find in your supermarket. Then, try to identify which milk is best for which purpose. For example, I like using hazelnut milk in hot chocolate. However, it is not the best for cooking as it is too sweety.
Be patient and try different brands Once you have identified which type of milk you like, just try different brands. The more kinds of milk you try, the most likely you will find your favourite one.
How should I compare and choose plant-based milk?
First, have a look at the amount of sugar and salt. You can indeed find added sugar or salt in plant-based milk so try to avoid them with the highest amounts. If your favourite milk contains a large amount of added sugar, I recommend you keep this one for specific and more occasional purposes and find another plant-based milk for all-purpose and daily use.
Then, you can compare milks by looking at the added micronutrients. The main component that you may need to look for is :
Calcium As explained previously, some milks are fortified in calcium (mostly by algae) and it could help you to contribute to your daily intake, especially if you are not consuming dairy products.
In addition, some plant-based milks are also fortified in :
Vitamin D (which is going to help calcium absorption)
These milks are also a great choice but you can also find Vitamin E, in nuts and oils and iodine in seaweed ( if you are vegan) or in fish and seafood ( if you are vegetarian). Moreover, if you are taking a supplementation, they could be included in it too.
Another good practice is to review the eventual additives which could be added. Indeed, some additives are suspected to trigger some diseases so it is best to avoid them, if possible.
As the list of non-recommended additives is long, I recommend you to use an application like Yuka, or QuelProduit. They are very simple to use, you only need to scan the barcode of the product and to quickly review the list of additives.
Finally, you can try to select a sustainable or organic product.
Nutritional Review of a few plant-based milks
I have included below, a few nutritional reviews of plant-based milk products. Most of them are available online, in supermarkets or in specialised shops.
Why are plant-based milk nutrients quantities and qualities different?
You may have noticed that there are different amounts of proteins, but also lipids between plant-based milks. This is even true inside the same family of products, for example, between two almond milks.
The explanation is pretty simple, and depends on different factors :
The type of milk and quality of proteins
The quantity added
Other ingredients added
One factor to take into consideration is the type of milk and thus, the core ingredient of the product. For example, you will find more proteins in soya milk than in almond milk because soya beans naturally contain more protein than almonds. Therefore, if you are looking to increase your protein intake, soya milk can be great.
Moreover, there is also a difference in the quality of the proteins. Proteins from cow milk contain all the indispensable amino acids which make them a “complete” protein. However, it is not the case with plant-based milk. Soya milk can have a good protein profile as soy is a complete source of proteins. However, it won’t be the case with rice milk.
Then, between one family of products, for example, almond milk, you can find different quantities of the nutrients. This is because the quantities of almonds used in the milk are not the same. Some manufacturers will add more almonds in their recipes and some others less. In terms of nutrition, it doesn’t change a lot of the nutrients you will get into one glass of milk. However, it could change the taste of the milk, so it could be important for you to try different products to see which one you like best.
Finally, other ingredients can be added to the recipe which could modify the repartition of nutrients.
How can I use my favourite plant-based milk?
Now that you know how to select your favourite (s) plant-based milk(s), it is also important to know what you can do with it.
Just as milk: you can use plant-based milk in your morning porridge, or with your favourite cereals.
Recipe Idea: For a delicious breakfast, put in a bowl, 150ml of milk, 40g of oats, a few berries, and a portion of almond or one teaspoon of nut butter. Add some chia seeds and linseeds on top and serve.
Baking: plant-based milk is also a great alternative to bake your favourite cake or entremet. If your favourite milk already contains added sugar, I recommend you decrease the amount of sugar you will add to the recipe.
Recipe Idea: Vegan Banana and oat Pancakes
Cooking: you can also use it to cook vegetable flan, quiche or to create a nice sauce. If you are using it for a salty recipe, I advised you to select an unsweetened product.
Plant-based milk can be expensive, how to control my budget?
Even if you can now find the most famous brands in your supermarkets, plant-based milk is still more expensive than cow milk. The cheapest option is often soya milk. However, if you prefer, more original milk such as quinoa and rice, it will be more expensive.
So if you want to control your budget, one good option is to look at supermarket own-brand products. These options are often less expensive and could be more suitable for families.
Finally, another solution could be to make your own milk at home. It is not always less expensive, but you can better control the cost depending on the percentage of nuts you are adding to your recipe.
How to make my own plant-based milk?
If you want to make your own plant-based milk, the good news is, that is very easy.
You can follow this Homemade Almond Milk Recipe.
The Bottom Line
Plant-based milk is a very dynamic market with a lot of original products being added every year. If you like trying new products, have a look in your supermarket or in the specialised shop to discover a large variety of flavours.
If you have any questions regarding plant-based milk or if you need personalized advice on nutrition, don’t hesitate to contact me. I can help you to transition to a vegan or vegetarian diet.