by Emily Neill
Plant-based milk is good for our bodies and the environment. But are all milk alternatives created equal?
Whether pouring it over cereal or sloshing into our morning coffee, more and more of us are reaching for plant-based milks. It’s not just the smooth, creamy tastes that excite us, they’re also great for our bodies and the environment. To help you choose your new favourite milk moustache, we’ve taken a look at how they square up and we’ve even shared a couple of our favourite brands, so you know who to look out for.
Best on the list for: Teas and coffees
Oat milk is usually the first plant-based milk people try, perhaps because it has a familiar taste. Aside from having a delicate, ‘oaty’ flavour, it’s also deliciously creamy (especially the ‘barista’ versions some brands offer).
When it comes to sustainability, oat milk takes the biscuit (or, oatcake – sorry). The biggest upside is that it takes about 80% less land to produce the oats that make it than for regular dairy milk. Your favourite oaty beverage also stands up well in terms of how much water is needed and how much CO2 is released during its production. 1 litre of oat milk equates to about 48 litres of water (compared to a whopping 628 litres for dairy milk). And a 200ml glass accounts for about 0.18 kg in CO2 emissions – win.
Oat milk is rich in dietary fibre, which is great for gut health. Most brands also fortify their oat milks with B vitamins (including B12), helping to keep your mood boosted as well as giving you a luxuriously thick head of hair.
Best on the list for: Baking and cereals
Soy milk has a neutral, slightly sweet flavour. It’s thinner than the other milk alternatives on this list but still has a smooth, creamy texture, which makes it a great option for a lighter taste.
Whilst soy doesn't come out on top when rated against the other plant milks on its environmental impact, it is still a huge step up from dairy milk. It needs less land to produce, uses 22-times less water and releases a third less CO2 for production.
Soya milk contains almost the same amount of protein as regular dairy milk – a big bonus if you’re looking to bulk up. It’s also one of the few dairy alternatives to have all nine essential amino acids – key in building muscle and preventing fatigue.
Best on the list for: Iced drinks, ice cream, smoothies, and curry recipes
Coconut milk has the most distinct flavour of all the plant-based dairy alternatives. It’s like the best part of a Bounty bar as milk, with all that coconut goodness and the delicious tropical flavours that come with it. The thing we love about coconut milk is it's super silky and creamy texture (great in a cappuccino if you feel like mixing up your usual oat milk latte).
As with any milks (dairy or plant-based), there are arguments for and against the sustainability of coconut milk. Whilst most of the coconut groves are predominantly found along the beaches of South East Asia, it's important to note that coconut farming is generally small-scale, relying on coastal strips (meaning barely any deforestation!) and using fewer pesticides than other crops.
Coconut milk sometimes gets a bad rap in the non-dairy world because it contains more saturated fat than other alternatives. However, it’s worth noting these fats come mostly in the form of something called ‘medium-chain saturated fatty acids’. Without going into the fine detail, certain types of these acids are actually helpful in fighting off infections and viruses.
Best on the list for: Overnight oats, soups, and sauces
Almond milk has a delicate nutty tang to it and sometimes, just a hint of sweetness. It’s also thinner than dairy milk, making it ideal for smoothies and iced drinks.
Our almond friend ranks the lowest against the other plant-based alternatives on the sustainability factor. For such a little nut, it’s very thirsty – it takes about 371 litres of water to produce 1 litre of almond milk in comparison to oats at 48. However, it’s hands down better for the environment than dairy milk - by choosing almond milk over dairy though, you’re still a cool third off the CO2 emissions of your white-stuff and for that, we salute you.
It contains a decent dose of vitamin E (around 20-50% of your RDA), good for your immune system, and is a plant-based source of calcium. Aside from this, almond milk is also low in calories and fat, as long as it doesn’t contain added sugar.
Best on the list for: Desserts and porridge
Rice milk is the blank canvas of the plant-based world. It has a very mild flavour over which you can layer different tastes – great if you’re making desserts and also works perfectly with savoury recipes like curry. In terms of consistency, it’s the thinnest of the alternative line-up.
Similar to almond milk, rice milk takes quite a bit of water to produce – about 270 litres for every 1 litre of milk. Its biggest green credential though is how efficient it is in terms of land use. To produce a kg of rice milk, you only need 30 cm2 of gloriously swampy rice paddy – the least amount of land out of all the dairy alternatives.
Rice milk is the richest of the lot in terms of carbohydrates, helping to keep your energy levels up. If you’re looking for a plant-based source of protein however, you may want to stick to soy because rice milk only contains about 1%, as opposed to soy’s 3.3%.
There you have it allplanters, there’s just as much variety with plant-based milk as with dairy. And all plant-based milks are more environmentally friendly than their dairy alternatives. They also offer a host of different health benefits – from packing a protein punch to a blast of immune-boosting antioxidants. Choosing the right one depends entirely on your taste preferences and/or the recipe you’re whipping up.
Curious about what other tasty treats plants can serve up? allplants make delicious plant-based meals and deliver them straight to your door. Check out our menu to see what takes your fancy.
Emily is our Content and Community Assistant by day, and qualified PT by… later that day. She couldn’t live without exercise (makes sense) so can usually be spotted in her favourite spin class, with our Three Mushroom Risotto for afters.