Homemade Cashew Milk

Plant Milks: Junk Food or Health Food?

When is a processed, packaged food product thought to be a healthy choice? Hard to say, but you might look at plant milks for some insight. The category is booming. Global sales will grow at a stunning 13% annual rate through 2022, say industry analysts. Consumers opting for the health and sustainability image of a plant-based diet are fuelling that growth. Almond milk is replacing soy milk as the leading option among a dizzying array of alternatives.

If the sustainability and health benefits of almond milk are giving you a warm, fuzzy feeling, you might not want to look too close.

First of all, you will find that some observers, like Tom Philpott, will tell you that almonds are an environmental disaster. Their production is sucking California water resources dry and putting stress on the embattled species of honeybees. Stack that up against the environmental cost of dairy production and the winner is not obvious.

Then comes the question of nutritional value. A recent study in the Pediatric Journal of Gastroenterology and Nutrition compared the nutritional value of plant milks to cow’s milk. They found a great deal of variability, less protein, and questionable bioavailability for the nutrients added to plant milks. Their bottom line was:

Non-dairy milk beverages vary in their nutritional profiles. These should not be considered a nutritional substitute for cow’s milk until nutrient quality and bioavailability is established.

So, maybe you like plant milks. Maybe you can’t tolerate cow’s milk or you’ve committed to a vegan lifestyle. Then have another slurp of that almond latte. But don’t count on better health for yourself or the planet as a direct result.

Click here for the study of plant milks, here for more from the New York Times, and here for more from Food Navigator USA.

Homemade Cashew Milk, photograph © Abi Porter / flickr

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November 17, 2016

5 Responses to “Plant Milks: Junk Food or Health Food?”

  1. November 17, 2016 at 7:08 am, Susan Burke March said:

    A nuanced blog, Ted. We just visited California, and with the new administration denying climate change, it’s hard to not say “there’s no hope.”

    Here’s another informative article about outdated irrigation methods and agriculture in almond land (from Slate.com).
    http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2015/04/almonds_in_california_they_use_up_a_lot_of_water_but_they_deserve_a_place.html

  2. November 17, 2016 at 7:31 am, Ted said:

    Thanks, Susan. I hope the nuances are nourishing.

  3. November 17, 2016 at 8:00 am, Allen Browne said:

    nuances are always nourishing with chocolate,

  4. November 17, 2016 at 10:30 am, Janice M McSherry said:

    And, if you are willing and able to pay extra for organic milk, you are purchasing milk produced by cows that are treated more humanely than those who are subjected to factory farming techniques.

  5. November 17, 2016 at 2:08 pm, Jessica Morrison said:

    A little bummed that you included a link to an article you have to pay for.