Have you switched to a plant-based milk in your morning coffee? It’s an easy one, and many of us have, with data showing that the consumption of plant-based milks is up over 60% between 2012 and 2017.
We were shocked to find out majority of nut milks contain very little of the actual nut, most almond milks for example can contain as little as 2 or 3 almonds. When it comes to plant-based miles it’s much more about quality and simplicity of ingredients. The best bet is always: whole, unrefined foods without additives.
Choosing wisely. Unfortunately, as the plant-based milk industry has exploded in the last decade, there are many different brands with highly variable ingredients. It’s a bit of a minefield. Often, brands like Almond Breeze will use meaningless terms like ‘natural’ or ‘full of fiber’ which can be misleading and cover up unwanted additional ingredients like added sugar, preservatives, stabilizers, seed oils and gums... Not what we want.
For example, some plant-based milks are free of sugar, others are as high as 17g per serving. Similarly, calorie count can range from 30kcal up to 550kcal! Others labelled ‘Almond’ milk for example contain as little as 2.5% of the nut.
INGREDIENTS AND FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN IT COMES TO PLANT-BASED MILK FOR YOUR BABY OR CHILD:
- Aside from the obvious, like added sugar. Some commercially available nut milks (Oatly for example) contain canola oil (also known as rapeseed oil). The trouble with these refined Omega 6 fats is that during processing and after they are heated to high temperatures producing oxidation, which in quantities over time can contribute inflammation in our bodies. It’s better to avoid products which contain this additive.
- Rice milk is also frequently added to other nut milks and can be hidden quite well. It is not recommended for young children due to its arsenic content. It also contains the lowest amount of protein and higher glycemic index of the available nut milks, one to avoid.
BIOAVAILABILTY: HOW MUCH OF THE 'GOOD STUFF' CAN OUR BODIES ABSORB?
- Plant milks do have nutritional benefits, particularly in their purest form. However, they’re not always super available to the body. Another reason these milks should be consumed in moderation and not as a primary food source.
- Take protein for example. Soy milk has the highest protein content of the plant milks, however, in general plant protein can be less bioavailable (due to lack of limiting proteins). These can be added but it is often at the expense of taste and aroma, so many companies avoid it. There has also been some concern relating to phytoestrogen content (potentially hormone disrupting). So once again, in moderation for rapidly growing children.
- Another reason to ensure that plant-based milks are not the main beverage for small children is that many of them contain phytates, which bind to minerals like Zinc, Magnesium, and Iron. This reduces the bioavailability of how much of the mineral we can absorb Oat milk for example.
- Against this, however, oat milk is high in fiber, antioxidants and polyphenols which are good for cell protection and reduce blood glucose and cholesterol.
CONFUSED? NO NEED TO BE: HERE IS THE BOTTOM LINE:
There is no harm in babies or children enjoying a well sourced plant-based milk as part of a diet rich in other macro and micronutrients. The difficulty is when it is THE primary source of nutrition.
Ultimately every plant-based milk drink has its own peculiar characteristics with its potential pros and cons. As always, it’s about the quality. Reading the label is so important when it comes to choosing a nut-milk. Ideally look for minimal ingredients. Plenish, New Barn Organics and Malk are great brands (simply the organic nut, plus water and a dash of salt. Note: For younger babies (below a year) who should avoid added salt.
Another good solution is to make your own! Simply take the nut, seed or plant of your choice, soak overnight then blend thoroughly with filtered water and put through a nut-milk bag or muslin…. and presto!
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