Milk Substitute: How Healthy are Vegan Drinks with Soy & Co?

Many people do without cow’s milk and resort to plant-based alternatives. The vegan drinks consist of soy, oats, or rice and differ in taste as well as in fat and nutrient content.

More and more consumers are using drinks made from soy, oats, almonds, rice, coconut, or spelled instead of milk. Even if they are intended to replace cow’s milk, most plant-based foods in Europe cannot be marketed as milk because the term is legally protected. According to European regulation, this means “the milking of one or more cows” – with one exception: coconut milk.

Why many do without cow’s milk

Consumers avoid cow’s milk for various reasons: because they generally avoid animal products or because they want to protect the climate. Because milk production generates many greenhouse gases – methane and CO2. In the case of a rare genuine allergy to milk protein, strict abstinence is necessary. People with lactose intolerance – after all, 15 to 20 percent of adults in Germany – do not get cow’s milk.

Soy drink: Lots of protein, few calories

Soy drink is the classic among milk alternatives and is, therefore, part of the standard range in supermarkets. The milk substitute is well suited for coffee because it can be frothed up without any problems. However, it has a typical taste of its own and is slightly bitter when unsweetened.

Soy drinks provide all the proteins that humans need to live, but at 28 kilocalories per 100 milliliters, they contain not even half as many calories as cow’s milk. On the other hand, soy drinks are rich in unsaturated fatty acids, folic acid, and so-called isoflavones (yellowish plant pigments). However, allergy sufferers should avoid soy: the protein in the drinks is identical to that of birch pollen.

Pros and cons of isoflavones

Isoflavones are similar to the female sex hormone estrogen and have long been criticized. However, it is now known that these can protect against osteoporosis and menopausal symptoms. For infants and young children, however, isoflavones can be harmful, so don’t get plain soy drinks from the supermarket.

Added calcium and vitamins

When it comes to calcium, however, the soy drink cannot keep up with cow’s milk: it only contains about a fifth of the calcium contained in whole milk. Some manufacturers therefore artificially add calcium – as well as vitamin B12, which is not naturally contained in any plant-based drink.

Oat drink: Lots of fiber, good for diabetics

An increasingly popular milk alternative is the oat drink: it contains no cholesterol, but almost as many calories as cow’s milk and can be a good substitute for rice pudding, for example. It also provides just as much calcium and valuable dietary fiber. This is why an oat drink keeps you full for longer and helps diabetics to keep their blood sugar levels stable. The milk substitute contains no lactose and no milk protein – and is therefore well suited for allergy sufferers. Only people suffering from celiac disease need to be careful because not all oat drinks are reliably gluten-free.

Oat drinks usually do not contain any added sugar, since grain starch is converted into sugar during production. Oat milk and cream alternatives are great for cooking and baking but are relatively low in nutrients.

Almond drink: Nutty aroma, few nutrients

In addition to health food stores and organic shops, supermarkets now also offer almond drinks. Almond milk contains only 22 kilocalories per 100 milliliters, but hardly any healthy ingredients from almonds such as healthy fats, vegetable proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Because almonds make up only about three to seven percent of the milk-like liquid – far too little for a noteworthy effect.

The milk alternative with its nutty aroma is particularly suitable for baking, desserts, or in combination with muesli. Almond milk flocculates in coffee.

Rice drink: Lots of carbohydrates, good for allergy sufferers

With 51 kilocalories per 100 milliliters, rice drink has almost as many calories as cow’s milk because rice contains many energy-rich carbohydrates. At the same time, the drink contains hardly any proteins and almost no fiber, vitamins or calcium. During production, rice is boiled in water. The rice is almost always imported and partially contaminated with heavy metals. To minimize the risk, you should only use organic rice drinks.

Rice drinks contain neither lactose nor milk protein nor gluten. Therefore they are also suitable for allergy sufferers. The watery liquid has a neutral taste and is suitable for making all kinds of desserts. Rice drinks are less suitable for coffee specialties such as cappuccino or latte macchiato because they are difficult to froth.

Coconut Milk: Good for cooking

When making coconut milk, the pulp is removed from the shell and ground, and the grated coconut is then pressed. Coconut milk is rich in potassium, sodium, and magnesium and contains healthy fatty acids. Coconut milk is particularly suitable for cooking and baking, including rice pudding and desserts. However, it has an intense taste of its own that does not go well with all dishes.

Lupine drink: Protein-rich plants from local cultivation

One of the rare milk alternatives is a lupine drink. The basis for this is the seeds of the blue-flowering lupine, a plant that is also native to Germany. They contain as much protein as soybeans – almost 40 percent. They are also rich in vitamin E and important trace elements such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron. In the drinks, however, the respective proportion is significantly lower.

Spelled drink: few nutrients

Spelled drinks smell and taste strongly of grain. The milk substitute contains little protein, hardly any vitamins, and minerals, and is often fortified with calcium.

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