Plant based milks are suddenly popular. Going vegan, concerns about the environmental impact of dairy milk production and animal welfare are all reasons for making the switch. However, how sustainable and healthy are they?  Giki looks into some of the plant-based options to help answer that question.

Navigating the aisles

There are countless plant-based alternatives on sale in the supermarket making it easy to switch. However, with Soy, Almond, Brown Rice and Coconut milks all on offer what’s the difference? First off the ingredients – what’s actually in these products?

Alpro Soy Milk Water, Hulled Soya beans (6.5%), Acidity regulators (Monopattassium Phospahte, Dipotassium phosphate), Calcium Carbonate, Maltodextrin, Stabiliser (Gellan Gum) Vitamins (B2, B12, D2).
Alpro Almond Drink Water, Almonds (2.3%), Calcium, Sea salt, Stabilisers (Locust Bean Gum, Gellan Gum), Emulsifier (Sunflower lecithin), Vitamins B2, B12, D2
Rude Health Organic Brown Rice Drink Spring Water, Organic Brown Rice (17%), Organic cold pressed Sunflower oil, Sea salt
Oatly Organic Oat Drink Water, Organic Oats (10%), Sea Salt
Rebel Kitchen Organic Whole Mylk Spring Water, Organic Coconut cream (25%), Organic Brown Rice, Organic Cashew, Himalayan Salt, Nutritional yeast
Innocent Hazelnut Water, Organic Rice, Hazelnuts, Sea Salt
Koko Coconut Milk Filtered water, Coconut Milk (8.4%), Grape Juice Concentrate, Calcium Phosphate, Emulsifier (Sucrose Ester of fatty Acids), Sea salt, Colour (Carotene), Vitamin D2, Vitamin B12.

The ingredients lists vary greatly – some products have just 3 whilst others up to 12. As a result some products could be classed as ultra-processed, due to the inclusion of additives such as thickeners, emulsifiers and flavourings, or added sugars on the ingredients list. Giki’s app looks for products free from additives so a product like Rude Health gets the “Free from additives” badge.

Whilst plant-based milks use less natural resources to produce, such as land and water, there’s a lack of evidence comparing the environmental impact of dairy milk and plant-based milk production. Indeed research from the Barilla institute puts dairy in the same environmental impact group as bread and rice so it’s not necessarily a high carbon footprint option.     As far as animal welfare goes, any veggie-based products are guaranteed cruelty free which is a key consideration for many people. Meanwhile packaging is typically in a Tetra Pak container which is 100% recyclable but not all councils have the facilities to do this, so check your region at tetrapakrecycling.co.uk.

Healthy?

The other big consideration is nutrition which varies greatly between products and it really depends on your needs. Coconut milk is higher fat and calories while soy milk is higher in protein and oat milk will have more carbs. Many are fortified with Calcium and Vitamin D which is an added benefit for all.

With all that in mind, milk is still a natural product, it is minimally processed, doesn’t contain additives or fortifiers and stacks up well nutritionally.

So, what to do?

If you decide to stick with dairy milk, buy organic and local. This will guarantee high animal welfare and farming standards. Support your local farmers market or the milk man in your area especially if they do a bottle drop off and collect.

If going plant-based, choose a brand where you are comfortable with the ingredients. Going organic is a good option too.

Simply download the Giki app and it will give you all the information you need to make the best choice for you, whether it be dairy free or not.

 

Remember, you can make your own plant-based milks at home by soaking nuts, grains or seeds in water overnight and blending, then straining the next day – no packaging, no additives and suited to your own taste!

 

p.s. Make sure you shake before use to get the best out of your plant-based milk as a lot of the goodness settles at the bottom!