Pros and cons of common plant-based milk alternatives
The OG and, in many ways, still one of the best. Soy milk consistently out-performs many of its plant-based brethren when it comes to sustainability. It requires significantly less land and water to produce, particularly when compared to rice and almond milk, and produces relatively low greenhouse gas emissions.
The good: As well as producing a creamy and frothy milk for coffee, soy milk boasts a superior nutrition profile to many of the other plant-based milks. It is rich in nutrients including B vitamins, fibre, potassium and magnesium. But perhaps its key benefit is that soy protein is considered a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids, which must be obtained through your diet.
The bad: Soy has gotten a bad rap over the years for containing isoflavones (a type of plant estrogen), which has been purported to cause everything from cancer to dementia. These claims have not been substantiated, with recent population studies suggesting regular soy consumption is likely to have either a beneficial or neutral effect on various health outcomes. Soy crops are often sprayed with chemical fertilisers or other pesticides, so look for organic or non-GMO options when you can.
Almond milk has been a mainstay on the plant-based milk scene for a while now. Its proliferation has seen it go from being something you’d only find in health stores to lining the shelves of your local supermarket. Second to soy, it was one of the earliest milks to be adopted by cafes and restaurants, owing to its naturally sweet, nutty flavour.
The good: It’s the inoffensive taste that has made almond milk a popular choice among milk drinkers, particularly when mixed with your morning coffee or poured over your favourite cereal. It’s low in calories, fat and has less natural sugar than regular dairy, while still containing high levels of magnesium and vitamin E.
The bad: Almonds are a thirsty crop, which has given them a bad reputation when it comes to sustainability. While they are the most water-intensive of the plant-based alternatives, they still require less water, produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and take less land than traditional dairy farming.
Almond milk is essentially watered-down almonds that have been blended and passed through a sieve, which means many of the associated nutrition benefits are watered down, too. Look for organic, unsweetened varieties to maximise the nutrition profile.
Oat milk’s meteoric rise through the milk halls of fame has been nothing short of remarkable. The deliciously creamy vegan blend has a silky texture.
The good: Other than its great taste, one of the best things about oat milk is that it is a relatively sustainable crop to grow, making it both a delicious and planet-friendly dairy alternative. Many brands use locally grown oats (including Pure Harvest, Sanitarium, Uncle Toby’s, Milk Lab and Australia’s Own, who sources oats from regional Victoria), meaning you’re cutting down on food miles, too.
The bad: Oat crops are often sprayed with a glyphosate-based herbicide, more commonly known as Roundup, so it’s best to choose milks made with organically grown oats where possible.