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Milk substitutes: everything you want to know

You have undoubtedly seen them in the supermarket: the milk replacers. Products with the same structure and color as regular milk, without being an animal product. Especially people who would like to eat fewer animal products or who cannot tolerate lactose well, but still want to consume milk, choose a milk substitute.

In this blog, we discuss what a milk replacer actually is, whether they are healthy and which types there are. You will immediately find the nutritional value of each type here, which is so easy.

What is a milk replacer?

The standard milk as we all know it from the past is cow's milk. The shelves in the supermarkets are full of them and almost every child used to receive fresh or shelf-stable cow's milk (or buttermilk ). This is mainly due to the high amount of calcium in animal milk, which contributes to strong bones in growing children.

A milk replacer is a product that is very similar to animal (cow) milk but is not of animal origin. Efforts are made to imitate animal milk as closely as possible in terms of properties so that there is a suitable alternative for people who prefer not to consume animal products. This results in various plant-based alternatives. However, due to the number of alternatives, it can sometimes be quite difficult to choose. Read on for more information about the milk replacers and to discover which variants there are.

Milk substitutes

Are milk substitutes healthy?

Yes, milk substitutes are certainly healthy. The products are based on healthy natural products. These can be ingredients such as soybeans, oats, almonds, et cetera. You should of course check carefully whether you have an allergy to the main ingredient of the milk replacer. Milk substitutes often do not naturally have the amount of calcium or vitamin B12 that animal milk has. For this reason, this is added in many variants, so that it resembles animal milk even more in terms of properties.

In addition, it is also recommended to check whether you have the sweetened or unsweetened version. In many cases, the sweetened variant does not explicitly state on the packaging that it is sweetened, but the unsweetened variant does. So this is something to keep in mind if you want to buy a milk replacer in the supermarket.

What types of milk substitutes are there?

As you have already read, there are many milk replacers available. All the most common milk replacers have been elaborated below and provided with nutritional value. This way you can decide for yourself which milk replacer best suits your wishes and requirements.

soy milk

Soy milk (officially: soy drink) is perhaps the most well-known milk substitute we know today. Soy is already widely used in vegetarian and vegan recipes and the vast majority of meat substitutes are based on soybeans. In terms of properties, soy milk is most similar to animal cow's milk. This is mainly due to the amount of protein and calories in the soy drink. View the average nutritional value of unsweetened soy drinks here.

Where the Amount per 100ml
Energy (kcal) 38
Protein (g) 3.4
Carbohydrates (g) 1.4
– Of which sugar (gr) 1.1
Fats (gr) 2
– Of which saturated (gr) 0.3
Fibers (gr) 0.5

oat milk

Oat milk or oat drink is also a popular milk substitute. Oats naturally contain little protein, which means that oat milk contains significantly less protein than, for example, soy milk or animal milk. Unsweetened oat milk contains on average about 3 grams of sugar per 100 ml and has 29 kilocalories. This is slightly less than semi-skimmed cow's milk. Note that regular oat milk contains gluten. Do you suffer from gluten intolerance? Then there are now also gluten-free oat milk variants. View the entire nutritional value of unsweetened oat milk here.

Where the Amount per 100ml
Energy (kcal) 29
Protein (g) 0.4
Carbohydrates (g) 5
– Of which sugar (gr) 3
Fats (gr) 0.7
– Of which saturated (gr) 0.1
Fibers (gr) 0.3

almond milk

Almond milk is a milk substitute with almonds as the main ingredient. This nut contains good fats and quite a lot of calories. Since the average almond milk contains only a fraction of almonds, we don't really see that reflected in the nutritional value. In terms of nutritional value, unsweetened almond milk is unfortunately quite far from animal milk. View the entire nutritional value of unsweetened almond milk below.

Where the Amount per 100ml
Energy (kcal) 13
Protein (g) 0.5
Carbohydrates (g) 0.1
– Of which sugar (gr) 0
Fats (gr) 1.1
– Of which saturated (gr) 0.1
Fibers (gr) 0.3

coconut drink

We deliberately choose the name coconut drink here, since coconut milk is a different product than the coconut drink milk substitute. Coconut naturally contains a lot of fat, especially saturated fat. Fortunately, the amount of saturated fat in coconut drinks is not too bad, but it is considerably higher than with all other milk substitutes. View the nutritional value of unsweetened coconut drinks here.

Where the Amount per 100ml
Energy (kcal) 23
Protein (g) 0.2
Carbohydrates (g) 3.5
– Of which sugar (gr) 2
Fats (gr) 0.9
– Of which saturated (gr) 0.8
Fibers (gr) 0.2

rice milk

Rice milk or rice drink is a milk substitute based on rice. Now the amount of rice in the product is of course not too bad because otherwise, the milk would contain far too many carbohydrates. Since rice contains relatively little protein, we hardly see any protein in the rice drink. What is striking is the high amount of sugar in rice milk, namely about 3.7 grams per 100 ml. View the nutritional value of natural rice milk here.

Where the Amount per 100ml
Energy (kcal) 53
Protein (g) 0.3
Carbohydrates (g) 10
– Of which sugar (gr) 3.7
Fats (gr) 1.1
– Of which saturated (gr) 0.1
Fibers (gr) 0.1

hazelnut milk

The last milk replacer we discuss in this blog is hazelnut milk. This product is a lot less popular than the other substitutes because it is not yet widely known. At the time of writing this blog, the most widely available hazelnut milk is Alpro's long-life hazelnut drink. Unfortunately, this product contains added sugars and about 3 grams of protein per 100 ml less than animal milk. View the nutritional value of hazelnut drinks here.

Where the Amount per 100ml
Energy (kcal) 29
Protein (g) 0.4
Carbohydrates (g) 3.2
– Of which sugar (gr) 3.2
Fats (gr) 1.6
– Of which saturated (gr) 0, 2
Fibers (gr) 0.3

Which milk replacer is the healthiest?

Now that we've covered the most common milk replacers, we can paint a clearer picture of the product that most closely resembles animal milk. We can also see which has the healthiest properties.

We see that unsweetened oat milk and rice milk both contain a fair amount of sugar when we compare this with the other milk substitutes. Now animal milk also contains this, but that is the lactose that is present in that milk. Milk substitutes naturally do not contain lactose. Please note, the product may of course contain added lactose. In addition, both of these variants contain very little protein, especially in relation to animal milk.

We see that almond milk as a whole contains relatively few nutrients and coconut drink, unfortunately, contains the most saturated fats of all milk substitutes. Unfortunately, coconut milk also contains very little protein. The hazelnut milk that is currently available unfortunately contains added sugars and also has very little protein.

This leaves one milk substitute, which we will also award as the best milk substitute: unsweetened soy milk. Soy milk contains by far the most amount of protein of all milk replacers and does not contain much sugar. In addition, the amount of kilocalories per 100 ml is also not wrong. In terms of properties, it is therefore most similar to animal milk.

TIP: Do you drink milk for the proteins? Be sure to view an overview of foods with a lot of protein here.

This certainly does not mean that the other milk replacers are unhealthy. Pay attention to the nutritional value of the product you buy, so that you don't just replace your milk with a product that contains significantly different macronutrients without you being aware of this.

Milk substitutes vs animal milk

Animal milk is rich in protein, calcium, and vitamin B12. Many milk replacers lack this naturally, so they will not be a good alternative in the base. However, many food products choose to supplement their products with extra vitamin B12 and calcium. This is to offer a more complete alternative.

Humans can function well without dairy, as long as care is taken, of course, that you still get all the important nutrients. Soy drink with added vitamin B12 and calcium is now even in the Wheel of Five. This is also the milk replacer that most closely resembles animal milk. In short, the choice is huge and entirely up to you. Make a choice where you feel good and what best suits your lifestyle and goal.

Want to read more such blogs? Check out the nutrition category for interesting blogs related to nutrition.

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