/ Food & Drink

Have you switched to a plant-based milk?

Would you swap dairy for plant-based milk? I spoke with people around Which? who have made the switch to find out why they felt it was right for them.

Plant-based milks are well on the rise. According to research released by Mintel in July last year, almost a quarter of Brits are now drinking them.

So is it sustainability concerns, health benefits, a combination of both, or something else that’s behind the increasing popularity of the plant stuff?

What better way to find out than by speaking directly with people who have made the switch. And, as I found out, there are plenty of them at Which?. Here’s what they told me.

Which one have you switched to and why?

Amy: Rice. I became intolerant to dairy as it made me feel quite unwell.

Lauren: I’ve tried all of them but like oat the best. Oat also apparently has a lower environmental impact.

Oscar: Oat. I tried soya and almond, but found oat milk most similar to cow’s milk.

Rosie: Almond. I switched as I felt I was having a little too much dairy for my body to handle.

Katie: Almond and hazelnut. I tried it for ethical reasons and haven’t looked back.

Roughly how much more are you spending on non-dairy milk every week?

Amy: It’s about £1.40 for one litre and I probably go through one a week. It’s long life so lasts for a while if I don’t use it up within the week, so I don’t feel I spend much more.

Lauren: I usually get through a one litre carton each week. The branded version costs around £1.20. I haven’t seen any supermarket-own versions yet, please let me know if you have!

Oscar: I drink less milk generally since going Vegan, so I probably spend less than I have in the past.

Rosie: 85p – thank you, Aldi!

Katie: I’m not sure.

Are you using it the same way as cows milk? Eg. in tea and coffee, in cooking etc. Is it as versatile as cow’s milk?

Amy: Yes. I think it works really well in cooking, baking and coffee, but I’m still not a fan of it with tea! The only downside is dairy-free milk can split when you put it into coffee and tea which isn’t very nice. And nothing can beat a proper bit of cheese!

Lauren: I use it in tea, coffee, cereal, baking and desserts, but wouldn’t recommend for anything savoury, like a white pasta sauce. It’s too sweet.

Oscar: I drink tea and coffee black as I didn’t find oat milk the best in it. It’s nice with cereal though.

Rosie: I found it a really distinctive taste in my teas and coffees, so I haven’t made the full switch – but I do use it as an alternative with cereals and hot chocolates.

Katie: I only drink milk with muesli and granola but am giving the almond milk to my daughter with her cereal.

Have you noticed any health benefits?

Amy: Other than relieving the symptoms of being intolerant, no.

Lauren: I was recommended to cut down on dairy to help with a recurrent sore throat – it seems to work. I’ve been a vegetarian for years and I’m interested in cutting down on animal products anyway, I definitely feel better for it. I hope the cows do, too.

Oscar: No major changes.

Rosie: Yes – I feel less bloated after using almond milk

Katie: Not yet (a month in), but I am consuming fewer calories.

Do you think you’ll stick with it long term?

Amy: Definitely. Unless I stop being intolerant to dairy then I’d be quite keen to start eating proper cheese again!

Lauren: Yes!

Oscar: Sure.

Rosie: I plan to, yes.

Katie: Yes as I prefer the taste. I may also now try other flavours/brands. I could also be tempted to try non-dairy cheese!

How nutritious is plant-based milk?

Along with everyone above, I also spoke with Shefalee Loth, our Principal Food Researcher/Writer and Nutritionist here at Which?. Here’s her view:

Plant-based milks have become increasingly popular and they’re a great alternative for those with a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance. However it’s important to note that they’re much more pricey than cow’s milk and don’t contain the same nutrients.

Plant-based milks are predominantly water so they are lower in calories than cows’ milk. Apart from soya milk they also contain much less protein. If you have switched, go for an unsweetened version and don’t choose organic – organic plant-milks can’t be fortified by law. Non-organic plant-milk have been fortified to contain the same vitamins and minerals, for example calcium and B-vitamins, that you’d find in cow’s milk.

Could you see yourself making the switch from dairy to plant-based milk? Do you think the health and sustainability benefits are worth it? Or have you already made the switch?

What would sway you into giving plant-based milk a try?
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Either way, tell us about it in the comments.

Comments
Anitalouisa says:
30 January 2020

I switched to plant milk Years ago after suffering health problems
Never had a problem used soya then went over to almond but prefer oat now
Also gone vegan this year this has made me feel more healthy and if you eat the right veg you will get all the vitamins you need plus protein
The meat industry has to change the way they treat animals it’s not just farmers it’s the slaughter houses too there are videos of killing animals horribly and laughing about it
Animals are scared stiff bouncing off walls trying to escape
My days of meat are over
Trying to help improve the environment is very important
We eat far too much and it’s produced to much also
You’ve only got to look at the Hoads farm news yesterday that we were lied about free range eggs
Terrible place for chickens

Alan Fumagalli says:
30 January 2020

I found most plant based milks to thin, however, Cashew is much creamier and still low calorie so always use in cereals and other uses in cold dishes. I stock up when on offer at a £1 as it is usually is £1.70 a litre, currently have about 30 in stock, keeps well!

Ine cahew drink has these ingrdients – Water, Cashew (3.1%), Sugar, Calcium (Tri-calcium phosphate), Sea salt, Stabilisers (Locust bean gum, Gellan gum), Emulsifier (Lecithins (Sunflower)), Vitamins (B2, B12, E, D2) . I wonder how much thickening comes from the additives?

I like cashew nuts but have never been tempted by these drinks.

The thickening (or viscosity) comes from the two gum ingredients, both polysaccharides. One is obviously produced from plants whereas gellan is produced by a certain bacterium and has been used in foods for decades.

I use this one at the moment that is supposedly just 3 ingredients – filtered water, 5% cashews, sea salt. Being organic, it is lacking in calcium but it does have a semi-skimmed milk consistency.
https://www.plenishdrinks.com/shop/milk/cashew

Each type of milk is different across each brand. I’m not familiar with the one malcolm mentions, and try to stay away from those types of additives. They have little enough of the advertised ingredient already – the main one being water. Thickening agents can give the milks a strange consistency sometimes like a mouthful of fat globules that are not pleasant.

“Cashew Nuts
These creamy nuts are as potent with antioxidants as they are delicious. A great source of protein, copper, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous (sic) and fibre, they’re packed with nutrients!”

They make no mention that cashew nuts contain about two thirds fat. If they had, they could have mentioned the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat content as a virtue.

“Sea Salt
A controversial ingredient, but one that’s essential none the less, sea salt regulates water content in your body and promotes a healthy pH balance.”

Really? The way in which acid-base homeostasis is achieved is well documented and I’ve never seen reference to sea salt.

Cashew milk might have a good taste and texture, and I presume it’s easy to make. I was planning to make some but my cashews are roasted and treated with salt and cracked black pepper.

I have mentioned inulin as a hidden ingredient before. I wonder how many other hidden ingredients there are in plant milks. Coconut is another one that is not too healthy, but when you have no choice, just use it in moderation.

I tried making oat milk once . . . I can’t remember what I did now, but I seem to remember gloop that was fine in porridge but not in tea, and bits floating around a cloudy liquid. Whatever, it was better to buy it ready made.

I hadn’t thought about making my own cashew milk so will try it and report back.

There is no easy way of knowing. For others reading this inulin is a common plant polysaccharide that is present in many foods but nowadays can be added because it is usually considered beneficial. Unfortunately, inulin causes problems for a few people.

I am surprised that there is no requirement to label foods that contain inulin (natural or added), in the same way that labels show if gluten is present. That helps consumers make an informed choice.

I suggest you try a small batch, Alfa, because you could land up with the ground cashew powder floating on top. I don’t know how Plenish are produce cashew milk without using emulsifiers and stabilisers. They may use very powerful commercial homogenisers.

alfa “I’m not familiar with the one malcolm mentions“…… Aaaaah. I’m not surprised. I was having finger trouble – letters wearing off my keyboard – so “Ine cahew drink has these ingrdients” = “One cashew drink has these ingredients.” Sorry 🙁

Why do we need milk or milk substitutes at all? Using it to drink, colour tea and coffee, make porridge, cooking, could presumably all be either abandoned or use water. I’m just wondering where milk, or other white liquid, is essential?

I generally prefer to drink proper coffee without milk though prefer to use it in instant coffee. I buy semi-skimmed milk for general use. I prefer whole milk with muesli and skimmed milk in tea but rarely buy either.

I guessed the spelling wasn’t quite right but couldn’t find a brand with a similar name !!!

Oat milks have come and gone for the last 20 years or so we have been using them. Funnily enough, some years ago, the only oat milk on the market ceased production as there was not enough demand for it. Soya was out, oat had gone, coconut had not yet appeared so I went through a period of no milk and it was dreadful.

Firstly no cereal. Porridge is fine made with water, but you can’t put water on cornflakes.

I can’t drink black tea or coffee, I just don’t like them. I tried herbal teas and appealed to one producer for samples and but didn’t like them much except a ginger tea that has its own tea caddy now. I quite like Marmite or Bovril drinks but they are too high in salt. Honey and lemon is more suited to colds.

I ended up drinking mostly water that gets rather boring after a while.

I’ve tried Oatly’s Creamy Oat as a substitute for dairy cream and it’s OK.

David Sheppard says:
13 February 2020

All the trendy drinking of so called alternative milk totally ignores the dangers of becoming iodine,iron and magnesium deficient.Many studies including one in Tasmania showed poor academic results from children who rarely drank cows milk.
This is in addition to ignoring the vital calcium and magnesium vital for growing children.Lactose intolerance is traceable to the LACK of a mutational change centuries ago WHICH ALLOWED HUMANS TO DRINK DAIRY MILK AND NOT HAVE A REACTION.When population mixed the mutated gene was passed on.Those few who were unlucky enough not to have children with the mutation in a partner failed by chance to give their children the ability to tolerate the milk.
This is no excuse for not paying attention to what a person is NOT having as part of a regular diet including dairy.Intolerant individuals are in the minority and is not a regular feature in most people.It seems anything in the 20 th century which worked well is now being swept away by climate obsessed ideals way beyond giving up a car and gas central heating.
Let’s ensure our children don’t have lower IQs care of faddish milk diets.Get real vegans there is no excuse for destroying people’s lives and their families of the future ironically what climate fanatics accuse many of those who are eating and drinking a legal dairy diet.Dont feel ashamed as they want you to.Drink other milks its your choice but drink enough dairy and consume enough protein meat with plenty of iron in it for personal survival.

Many of the younger generation jumping on the vegan bandwagon will likely not be getting the nutrients they need. There was a case recently where a child died from malnutrition after being given a vegan diet.

We may not be able to drink cow’s milk, but I can still eat cow’s butter and cheese and my husband can eat sheep and goat’s cheese and goat’s butter. He can handle goat’s milk but it does have rather a strong taste so he prefers oat milk.

It does seem as people get older, some develop a lactose intolerance.

I think what is being pointed out is that there might be some consequences of that change longer term. The intro is rather lightweight, relating seemingly people’s experiences but without looking at long term effects and, maybe, should be advising what other dietary changes they may need to make to compensate. It could be seen as encouraging people to change their diet without the necessary health warnings in place.

I, personally, do not see any harm in people describing such lifestyle changes as “bandwagons” or “trendy” and unlikely to put anyone off making a contribution; probably quite the contrary – they might well be inspired to defend their position with objective rebuttals.

There are many occasions when contributors meet similar comments on their views.

To be fair, Shefalee Loth does say: However it’s important to note that they’re much more pricey than cow’s milk and don’t contain the same nutrients.

Plant-based milks are predominantly water so they are lower in calories than cows’ milk. Apart from soya milk they also contain much less protein. If you have switched, go for an unsweetened version and don’t choose organic – organic plant-milks can’t be fortified by law. Non-organic plant-milk have been fortified to contain the same vitamins and minerals, for example calcium and B-vitamins, that you’d find in cow’s milk.

One girl I knew many years ago decided to become vegetarian and include no milk in that choice. She’s now in her late thirties and a mother of two, and eats hamburgers and steaks with abandon. So I suspect Alfa’s comment is accurate, in that it tends to be girls at school who initially take the step of becoming Vegan.

We tend to ignore the very real effects of peer pressure among school girls, which can have devastating effects if not counterbalanced with good and detailed dietary advice.

I agree with Malcolm. There is a bandwagon effect rolled along by the media with all the focus on Veganuary, with connotations of a healthier lifestyle without any assessment of side effects or consequences and to some degree predicated on concerns over the environmental harm attributed to grazing animals as a new angle on the general philosophy.

There is a forceful lack of objectivity and neutrality throughout the debate on plant-based foodstuffs – not necessarily here but in the media generally – and to many people it does look like little more than a trend or fad. I would go so far as to say that there is a certain amount of guilt-tripping underlying the commentary and the kind of over-zealous self-righteousness associated with any counter-movement, essentially harmless but it can be perceived as disturbing.

In launching interesting and topical Conversations with a controversial flavour Which? must expect some strong reactions. I see them as productive.

Very well put John.

I have no problem with anyone switching foodstuffs for health reasons – I am one of them, but I suspect many are not.

We have spent over 20 years trying to avoid milk in products. Manufacturers have produced a token gesture of milk-free products but they have been very erratic in their availability and supermarkets used to remove them completely to make room for Xmas products.

It is only in the last year that vegan has been renamed plant-based and suddenly manufacturers are falling over themselves to stock shelves with vegan products.

We were in restaurant last week and overheard 4 young men talking. One of them had watched the film Game Changers that was discussed on the first page and had switched to being a vegan. I resisted saying anything to him but young men are being taken in by what is really a fancy manipulative advert by the vegan food producer.

The last year has really seen a bandwagon effect fuelled by social media to younger susceptible people.

The first post at the top of this page is far worse in terms of the disturbing content and persuasion being fed to young minds, many of whom won’t consider the ramifications of not eating a well-balanced diet.

Interesting if you read the back of the carton on all these plant based ‘milks’. A lot of extra ingredients for such a natural product and you have to wonder just how over processed they are. Hardly an environment saver.

Agreed moo63.

You have to ask where all the extra crops are coming from?

Years ago, when they first came onto the market, the quality of sweet potatoes was far better than what you can get now, the skins were fresh and unmarked just needing a clean before cooking. Then they became popular. They are smaller, skins are now mostly shrivelled and very marked so get peeled before cooking.

As the demand for plant based milks increases so will the demand for crops. Crops will likely be grown all over the world not just in the UK, so as you say hardly an environment saver. Crops could be grown in countries that have less stringent controls on herbicides and pesticides, such is the current growing demand.

To make crops go further, extra ingredients will likely be added to give the impression of a semi-skimmed milk, some of which could be hidden ingredients that don’t have to be declared such as inulin.

Just doing my shopping and seeing another bandwagon effect.

Until about 6 months ago, the majority of non-dairy milks were under £2 but I try and stock up when they are on special offer often nearer £1 each.

Suddenly, the price of them has rocketed and 60 out of 110 milks on Ocado are now over £1.99.

I first tried Plenish Cashew milk at £1.87 in August 2019.

They are now £2 (3 for £6) on special offer with a full price of £2.55.

This milk is 95% water. All these milks are mostly very expensive water.

The question is, Is this bandwagon here to stay?

If not, many of these milks will disappear and those that actually need it will struggle to buy it again.
https://www.ocado.com/browse/fresh-20002/milk-butter-eggs-40489/dairy-lactose-free-40534/long-life-milk-alternatives-156316?sort=PRICE_DESC

I bought a carton of the Plenish stuff out of curiosity after our earlier discussion, Alfa. I also have a bag of cashew nuts to see if I can make my own without a powerful homogeniser. I will have a go soon.

The retailers are probably exploiting the increased popularity of the milk alternatives. I bought some coffee beans in a refill shop and the price was £20 per kg. Very much though I would like to support a shop that avoids use of plastic packaging I’m not keen to pay that price.

You called it stuff wavechange, does that mean you don’t think much of it? Plant milks do take a bit of getting used to although they are a hell of a lot better than they were over 20 years ago.

I haven’t tried to make it as I thought you were right and it will end up as fine powder floating in water.

But do have a go and let us know how you get on with maybe a photo of your efforts?

A lot of dairy/meat-free exploitation is going on at the moment with very high prices for not very much veg.

Not at all, Alfa. I have yet to taste it or any of the other alternatives to milk. Being fond of cashew nuts it seemed worth a go. Mine came from Waitrose and I think it was on offer. It contains 5% cashew nuts and the salt content is 0.1g per 100ml, so I have the recipe.

I, too, like cashew nuts whether plain, salted or in stir fries. However I have no reason to change from dairy milk and these substitutes have no appeal. Should I try them to see if I acquire the taste? I don’t much like whisky and it was suggested I keep trying as I would learn to like it. Don’t see the point.

I see you resisted the common brand that bulks out their products with ingredients I would rather not have. It is good on cereal and in tea, but curdles in coffee, a common fault with many plant-based milks. I don’t actually like it in coffee, an oat barista is much nicer.

I don’t like malt whisky but I do like rye whisky and probably had my first Jack Daniels 30 years ago. After years of relative obscurity, for some reason, it is suddenly being pushed to the fore and is now regularly on special offer. 🙂

I often buy products that are mentioned on Which? Convo, out of interest, or at least investigate them. In addition to the Plenish cashew milk I bought a carton of the Alpro stuff. That contains polysaccharide gums as stabilisers, whereas Plenish contains just cashews, water and salt. If I had not experimented with whisky I might never have discovered Ardbeg and Caol Ila.

I quite understand that. I just didn’t see “learning” to like a particular group of alcoholic drinks as sensible; there are others I already enjoy without learning. Just as I’m quite happy with the milk I drink. But for those not tolerant to milk I fully understand the need to find alternatives.

I doubt I will switch to the plant-based milks, but I don’t see any problem with experimenting. Thinking back, I have bought mirin, biscuits, sink cleaner, dishwasher tablets and a mountain bar as a result of comments on Which? Convo.

We have switched to Oat Milk for some time now which we find very pleasant indeed. My only gripe is that our local authority doesn’t accept the cartons it comes in as collectable recycling, so I have to store the empties up and drive to the local recycling centre every fortnight or so. I confess to still having the odd pint of cow’s milk for my cup of tea in the morning when I wake up though.