lant-based alternatives cost three times more than cow’s milk and other dairy products, but lack their protein, calcium, iodine and vitamin B12 levels.
A new study says “consumers need to be informed that dairy alternatives cannot act as a nutritional replacement.” It says despite the expense of plant-based alternatives, the market has grown exponentially and is set to continue expanding.
Led by Miriam Clegg, Lecturer in Nutritional Sciences at the University of Reading, the report, A comparative assessment of the nutritional composition of dairy and plant-based dairy alternatives, says, while some plant-based products are fortified with micronutrients, a large number aren’t.
“This is particularly true of organic products which consumers may not realise are not fortified,” it says.
“One notable difference across all the categories of plant-based dairy alternatives was the difference in protein content, with alternatives generally lacking protein.
“Protein is essential for healthy growth and development. This may affect the population as a whole but would be even more impactful to groups such as toddlers or others that have a higher requirement for the nutrients that milk is a good source for, like pregnant women, nursing mothers.
“Many plant sources do not contain all the essential amino acids making them incomplete protein sources”
“Although not measured in this study the quality and bioavailability of the protein source needs to be considered when buying plant-based alternatives.
“Dairy milk contains a complete amino acid profile and bioavailability of the amino acids available in dairy milk proteins is higher than that of plant proteins.
“Amino acids are the fundamental components of proteins and are required for the synthesis of hormones and neuro-transmitters.
“In older adults they are essential for the maintenance of muscle mass; children require an adequate amount of proteins for growth.
“Many plant sources do not contain all the essential amino acids making them incomplete protein sources. Soya and pea protein contain the highest concentration of essential amino acids making them the most complete plant protein sources.
“Nuts and seeds are relatively good sources of plant protein, however the biological value of nuts is not very high.
“Dairy milk intake was not associated with an increased risk of mortality”
“Even though nuts may be a reasonable source of plant protein, this is not the case for the plant-based alternative dairy products due to the processing required during production.
“By combining plant protein sources together, there is potential to produce a higher quality of product. Manufacturers already provide various blended plant-based milk alternatives coming from a combination of different plant sources but the protein content of these products at present still remains low.
“Coconut oil is widely used in plant-based alternatives. However, these properties result in an increased fat and saturated fat content, particularly lauric acid.
“Despite dairy fat being relatively high in saturated fatty acids, a recent meta-analysis concluded that dairy milk intake was not associated with an increased risk of mortality.
“However, another meta-analysis highlighted that the consumption of coconut oil significantly increased low density lipoprotein cholesterol which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.”