Our Parish Nurse, Ann Yeo, knows that there is growing interest these days in plant-based, non-dairy milks. She sees the laden shelves in groceries and the Food Co-op; she wonders how people make their choices; and she offers to share what SHE has learned (as a vegetarian herself, who has studied plant-based nutrition and taught classes about plant-based eating).
It’s important to remember that plant-based milks (also known as non-dairy beverages) are not like the milks that mammals (like cows, and humans) feed their young. Except for fortified soy milk, they are, essentially, nutritional light-weights. They are available so you have something that resembles dairy milk in your cereal, coffee, tea, or smoothie. People typically use these products, rather than the cow’s milk that is a standard in our culture, because of:
· A desire to avoid animal-sourced foods; and/or
· Dairy allergy or lactose intolerance.
It’s also important to remember that plant-based milks are processed (not naturally-occurring) foods, with pertinent lists of ingredients to peruse. Some have significant amounts of added sugar, and most (except for soy milk and pea milk) have minimal or no protein. Calcium and Vitamin D content is not intrinsic but added as supplements.
Here are some guidelines from the current medical literature:
· Preferably, choose plant-based milk that is unsweetened. (Who among us really needs more sug-ar?)
· Use it in your cereal, in your coffee or tea or smoothie, also perhaps for cooking and baking if desired. Do not, however, displace more healthful plant foods (legumes, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds) from your diet by drinking glass after glass of plant milk. (It’s just not THAT good for you.)
· Never use one of the plant milks as a primary food for children younger than one year, who should get mother’s milk or an approved infant formula throughout that first year of life. After the first year, there are still concerns about the nutritional adequacy of plant milks for children, with the exception of fortified and unsweetened soy milk. Consider seeking advice from your child’s health-care provider or from a registered dietician with an interest in plant-based nutrition.
Finally, Thomas Campbell MD, a medical researcher with a special focus on nutrition, tells us (as of Jan. 2019) that soy does NOT seem to increase risk of breast cancer or lead to hormone problems, as previously feared. That’s good news!
-Ann Yeo, RN, MSN, Certified Holistic Nurse