How does the nutrition of oat, soy and almond milk compare to dairy?
Of course, another consideration is the environmental impact (emissions, water use, land use, to say nothing of humanitarian treatment of many dairy cows) of dairy farming vs. soy vs. almond vs. oats. Right now, oats seem to have the least impact and, as the article notes, the nutritional differences aren’t really relevant in wealthier countries. So, drinking plant-based milk drinking plant based milk will reduce the demand for cow’s milk and, if enough people switch, help reduce emissions and water use, and perhaps free up land for other purposes.
Cow's milk composition is not consistent, especially on a global scale. Even within one US state, dairies will ship whey protein, or milk fat, or even the liquid after fat and protein removal, from one region to another to normalize the content, often down to the minimum level.
The US ships whey protein powder to Mexico as the natural protein content is low.
Many countries have few cows and imoort milk powder from the US. They add local oils, such as palm in the Phillipines, or coconut in Thailand.
The protein powder is a byproduct of cheese manufacturer. These markets were created to consume it.
Protein content of milk varies by diet and season. Alfalfa is added to the diet to boost protein. This crop requires a lot of water and fertilizer. It's hard on the environment and on the cow's digestive system, shortening her useful like before she becomes a hamburger.
There are so many more layers than what's on the label.
Great content! The recent commercial with Audrey Plaza was hilarious and I thought it was unfair of the dairy industry to call other types of milk slime.
Another thing I think is interesting is how politicized diet has become. I don’t understand why we can’t just recognize the fact that different foods work differently for different people and that’s okay.
Human beings are diverse and we should celebrate our diverse diets instead of weaponizing them
Great work Hannah, if I may add another layer of nuance: ingredients.
Non-dairy milk alternatives contain a significant amount of additives (i.e: emulsifiers, non-sugar sweeteners..etc) and “frowned upon” ingredients like seed oils. These have health implications as well. I’m not familiar with the composition of the variety of dairy milks (I’m sure there’s plenty), but I was shocked to see how many of the aforementioned ingredients are prevalent in milk alts.
It’s worthwhile conducting a comparative study here too!
Thank you for a nuanced article that goes beyond “which one is the best.” I like how you distinguish between low income vs high income countries, and infants vs adults.
And it's always a good idea to talk to a registered dietitian about your individual needs ;)
For those interested in the environmental impact of protein sources, Hannah made this handy chart awhile back. https://ourworldindata.org/uploads/2020/02/Carbon-footprint-of-protein-foods-2.png
A comprehensive and nuanced story Hannah. I always enjoy your writing. It seems what we eat and why requires a bit of effort. What are YOUR risk factors? What are YOUR personal beliefs. Having worked in a business adjacent to food production in the US, the dairy industry is amongst the most distorted. One of the legacies, at least in the US is to allow certain products (meat and dairy) to present their calorie breakdowns by volume rather than caloric %. If all products were consistently presented as % of calories from fat, consumers would be served better. 2% milk comes to mind. Let's report saturated fat by volume while every other food will report differently so comparison is difficult. Also, while most consumer facing goods provide an ingredients list, while products such as ground beef and milk are a distilled array of ingredients mixed together to meet government thresholds (fast food beef production removes, crushes and adds back crushed bone to the allowable threshold -- yuk). You fairly point out that for some, especially those with risk factors, saturated fat is the predictor for most all of the most likely killers so a focus on limiting it is sensible for some. For many of us, it is wise to severely limit animal fat/cholesterol and saturated fat in general. This is not preachy but rather borne out without controversy for many of us.
I would love your research to consider factors such as soil health, including microbial density and diversity, as well as plant diversity (grasses, cereals, legumes, brassicas, & chenopods) and plant nutrition. Additionally, how these farming considerations can positively influence the health of the cow and how that affects the nutrient density and overall quality of the milk. My belief is that there are obvious synergies at play here, which can have both "upstream and downstream benefits" way beyond simply producing a healthy glass of milk.
WIC only allows 1% and soy milk because of the protein
Fair summary, I think. In Germany, one can also find pea-based drinks, which are somewhat higher in protein as well (but not quite at the level of soy) as well as various blends, eg oat-almond, pea-almond etc.