A new nutritional analysis on the mineral content in single base ingredient, plant-based milk products such as almond, cashew, coconut, hemp, oat, pea, rice, or soy, found that many of these alternatives have essential minerals equal to traditional dairy milk, with the added bonus of having lower cholesterol and fewer calories.

The new analysis detailing the mineral content of plant-based milk alternatives found among others that:

● Pea-based milk alternatives have the most phosphorus, zinc, and selenium

● Soy-based products have the highest amounts of magnesium

● Only pea-based and soy-based drinks had higher levels of the four essential minerals than cow’s milk

● Pea-based drinks contain about 50 percent higher levels of phosphorus, zinc, and selenium than dairy milk.

The researchers said that these plant-based milk alternatives could be important sources of micronutrients for people trying to reach the recommended dietary allowances for them, while also keeping in mind any family allergies to ingredients in plant-based milk alternatives.

They hoped their study would help consumers make informed dietary decisions about plant-based drink products.But, making a healthy choice is often made difficult by the fact that micronutrients are rarely ever mentioned on the labels of plant-based milk products, as food labeling guidelines do not insist on their inclusion.

Researchers at the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who were behind the current study analyzed samples from 85 milk alternative brands and found that mineral content varied significantly across different plant-based milk product types and between brands.

The study team surmised that plant-based milk such as legumes, pea, and soy have more mineral content than others due to its vast array of nutritional value. They also cautioned that just as there is wide variability in nutrient content in many food sources, the same may be true for non-dairy plant-based milk. Where and how these products are sourced could determine their micronutrient content.

Customers choose milk alternatives for a number of reasons, including their concern for the environment, issues with lactose intolerance, or their preference for the taste or flavor of non-milk alternatives. A standard labeling guideline would allow them to also make healthy choices with regard to the milk alternatives.

Here is a look at how different plant-based milk alternatives stack up:

Soy milk: Soy milk contains all the essential amino acids, which is similar to dairy milk. It is also cholesterol-free and low in saturated fat. But soy is also a common allergen and is not tolerated by everyone equally.

Almond milk: Almond milk is lower in calories than dairy milk, which may be preferred by adults trying to lose weight. However, this is not a good alternative if there are nut allergies present.

Cashew milk: Cashew milk has a creamy taste, which may be preferred over almond milk.It is also high in vitamin E, lower in calories, and fits well into a vegan diet. But, cashew milk has a low protein content, so it may not be helpful to meet a person’s overall protein needs.

Rice milk: A relatively new entrant into the ranks of plant-based milk alternatives, rice milk is a good option if there are allergies to dairy, nuts, or soy products. However, rice milk contains a higher carbohydrate and calorie content, so may not be appropriate for someone following a calorie-controlled diet.

When it comes to choosing the right plant-based milk for you and your family, experts suggest looking at the nutrition facts panel and the ingredient list. For an everyday milk, choose one that does not contain any added sugar. Also, choose an option low in sodium and low in unhealthy fats; avoiding any added sources of saturated fats/dietary cholesterol (ie., no tropical oils, especially such as palm, palm kernel, or coconut oil. Look for products that do not contain sunflower or safflower oils, corn oil, vegetable oils). Opt for one that is also a good source of protein, meaning it contains at least 5 grams of protein per serving.

Also, parents should be aware that milk alternatives may not be appropriate for children during the first two years of their lives. At this young age, children require adequate calories, iron, and protein. In such cases, breast milk or formula are generally recommended over any milk alternative.

However, if the child struggles with intolerance to lactose from milk, it is reasonable to experiment with the various alternatives, but it is important to keep in mind the difference between them.

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