While plant-based “milk” products, such as beverages made from almonds and soybeans, have some nutritional promise, they have a difficult time replacing milk from a cow, J.M. Madigan of North Carolina State University-Raleigh reported during the undergraduate student oral competition on dairy foods at the 2016 Joint Annual Meeting.
To examine whether plant-based beverages hold the same nutritional aspects as cow’s milk and are overall better for the consumer, Madigan studied multiple research papers on cow-based milk and plant-based "milk" products and analyzed the potential benefits and limitations of each.
One key point of analysis was that soy milk was shown to reduce cholesterol in one study (Meyer et al., 2004) but showed no effect in another study, even with increased isoflavones in the samples taken (Onuegbu et al., 2011). This is an area that requires further study, Madigan said.
Almond milk seemed to cause hyperoxaluria and genitourinary disorders in children due to its richness in oxalate, although she said it was found to be a good option for lactose-intolerant individuals (Ellis and Lieb, 2015).
Even though almond-based beverages can be an alternative for lactose-intolerant people, it has been discovered that the use of Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria can help make milk acceptable to lactose-intolerant individuals (Sanders and Klaenhammer, 2001).
A study also showed that people who consumed cow's milk more than once a day had a lower likelihood to have type 2 diabetes (Morcillo et al., 2012), Madigan noted.
A key nutrient — protein — was shown to be lacking in almond milk, which has less than 1 g of protein per cup versus the 8 g per cup in 2% cow's milk (U.S. Department of Agriculture data).
Milk also is a better source of essential fatty acids than either soy milk or almond milk (USDA).
From the data collected over multiple studies and databases, Madigan concluded that plant-based milk products have some nutritional promise, but at this time, they are not a nutritional equivalent to milk from a cow.