Heart of the Matter – Plant-based milks

By Sarah Noone and Caoimhe Clynch Nutrition News   |   1st Mar 2019

Our expert dietitian Sarah Noone, and student nutritionist Caoimhe Clynch, discuss the growing popularity of plant-based milks

The sales of plant-based milks such as almond and oat milk in Ireland increased by a massive 40 per cent in the 12 months between January 2018 and January 2019, so what exactly are plant-based milks and are they any better for us than dairy milk?

The consumption of plant-based milks is becoming increasingly popular. You can now see a range of milk alternatives from almond, hazelnut and cashew to coconut, rice, oat and soy in the fridges of most supermarkets. The reasons for this increase are unclear but it may be down to the fact that they are more widely available, personal tastes, the influence of social media, or misinformation around dairy products.

" The bottom line is that there is no need to cut out dairy milk from a health perspective, but if you choose to have milk alternatives, choose unsweetened and fortified varieties "

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From a health perspective there is no reason to avoid dairy milk except if you’re intolerant or allergic to it. Cow’s milk is perfectly healthy as it is rich in protein and naturally contains calcium and vitamin D (in small quantities) which are essential for bone health, vitamin B 12 and iodine which is important for thyroid and metabolism as well as brain development in pregnancy. If however you choose plant-based milks because of personal tastes, health or beliefs, it is important to remember that the nutritional composition will be different. Milk alternatives are more expensive and lower in calories and protein while some are not fortified (particularly organic varieties) and have added sugar.

The bottom line is that there is no need to cut out dairy milk from a health perspective, but if you choose to have milk alternatives, choose unsweetened and fortified varieties (with added calcium, vitamin D, B12 and iodine).

It’s easy to forget that we need to consider our whole diet and dietary pattern for heart health not one single food or nutrients. What matters most is the bigger picture of how balanced our diets are overall and having a healthy relationship with food – not whether we include one specific food in our diet or not.

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dairy dietitian heart health milk alternatives nutrition plant based milks

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