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Gone are the days when the lactose intolerant or those with milk allergy had to opt for soy or rice milk. Zoom around the supermarket and you are spoiled for choice – regular, light, flavoured, and calcium enriched plant milks from numerous nuts and grains and even a fruit (coconut). It’s a growth industry.

Plant milks
WHAT ARE THE KEY INGREDIENTS IN PLANT “MILKS”? It’s important to read the label as a typical ingredients list can contain from 3 or 4 to 13 or 14 ingredients. Remember, ingredients are listed on a food label from the greatest to smallest amounts that have been added.

  • Soy “milks” are water (about 85–90%) and ground whole soy beans or soy protein isolate powder. 
  • Nut “milks” (almond, cashew, hazelnut, macadamia) are water (about 97%) and ground nuts/nut pastes. 
  • Grain/seed “milks” (hemp, quinoa/chia, oats, rice) are water (about 85–90%) and a mix of flours and/or brans. 
  • Coconut “milk” is water (about 70%) and coconut cream/milk. 

WHAT ELSE IS IN THEM? Food manufacturers add a number of ingredients and approved food additives to make them more nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk, to provide a creamy mouth-feel and to make them tasty. We have put together this table to help you decode the ingredient list so you know what you are buying and can make an informed decision.

Plant milk ingredient table
In a review of plant milks in The Conversation, dietitian Suzie Ferrie makes the point that many consumers are probably being misled by the labelling of these alternative products as milk and that some are startlingly low on nutrition. She says: “The large amount of added water means that many of these products are quite dilute. Other than soy milk, none of the others have even a tenth of the protein in animal milks. If you adjust for the amount of added water by looking at their nutrition relative to calorie content (instead of just per 100ml as most labels show), then some of the nut products look a bit better …Then, there’s added salt, which surprisingly seems to be a supplement to every nut milk product on the market. Calcium content is not comparable either, unless it has been added. Unfortunately, the form of calcium commonly used is not easily absorbed by the human body compared to what’s present in animal milks.”

If you need to manage your blood glucose, you need to know that there’s here’s also a considerable difference in GI values of plant milks as you can see in the following table.

Plant milk table
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