Got milk? Find out where popular plant-based milks land on the totem pole

I’ve been warning against “fake milks” for years now. They’re highly processed, plant-based, fake foods that aren’t good for your health or for the health of the planet.

These so-called “milks” are made from soybeans, almonds, oats, coconut, rice, hemp, and other plants. And the thousands of gallons of water needed to grow these plants, along with the energy requirements of the industrial processing needed to make a gallon of this kind of milk, burdens the environment.

Plus, they’re often touted as “better for you” when compared to cow’s milk, but there has never been any science-backed advantage of plant-based “milks” in terms of human diet and nutrition.

In fact, a new analysis of 115 different plant-based milks shows they’re actually lacking in vital nutrients when compared with authentic dairy foods.1 And this was particularly true for women over the age of 50 and teenagers, who require higher intake of these nutrients for bone health.

The “discovery” we already knew about

The researchers who conducted this analysis described their findings as a “disconcerting discovery,” since consumers tend to perceive plant-based milks as somehow rich in nutrients.

But I’m not at all surprised. In fact, what’s really disconcerting is why they are only now “discovering” this, after decades of pushing these highly processed, fake foods onto credulous consumers.

Perhaps this study will turn the tide, though. The researchers, who are based in Australia, said that, “due to the high proportion of consumers selecting plant-based milk alternatives for non-dietary reasons,” they recommend that regulators add warning labels to these “milks”—especially for older women and adolescents.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the findings that led to this sensible, yet long-overdue conclusion.

Even fortified plant milks lack key nutrients

In late 2019, the researchers visited grocery stores in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, and scanned the nutrition information panels on refrigerated and non-refrigerated plant-based milks.

Of the products analyzed, 48 were made from tree nuts (like almonds) and seeds, 27 were from legumes (like soy), 19 were from grains (like oats), 11 came from mixed sources, and 10 were made from coconut.

The researchers observed that plant-based milks are particularly lacking in vitamin A, vitamin B12, protein, calcium, iodine, and zinc. Which is especially egregious when 57 percent of these milks claimed to be fortified with nutrients. What a sham!

Specifically, all of the single-ingredient products contained little to zero vitamin B12, whereas cow’s milk contains 5 to 8 micrograms per liter. And the protein content of the plant milks ranged from zero to 42 grams per liter, whereas cow’s milk has 32 to 47 grams per liter.

Not to mention, none of the plant milks were fortified with iodine or zinc. (Iodine is needed for thyroid function and metabolism. Yet many plants contain factors that interfere with iodine absorption in the thyroid. And zinc is essential for general health—including immune health, as I discuss on page 5.)

Plus, only one-third of the products contained amounts of calcium similar to cow’s milk. This is key because, as I always point out, it’s important to get calcium from dietary sources alone—as calcium supplements can actually create too much of the mineral in your blood, contributing to heart disease and dementia.

Why plant milks are particularly dangerous for older and younger people

In addition, as I mentioned earlier, researchers also considered the impacts of plant-based milks on growing children, ages 12 to 18, and women older than 50.  People in these groups experience special physiological demands, such as bone health, that typically require dairy foods and meats.

The researchers reported that among adolescents, regular dairy consumption—including cow’s milk—can fulfill 64 to 90 percent of daily protein requirements, while typical plant-based products supply only 4 to 23 percent. (Since legumes like soybeans contain more protein than other plants, these milks supply 55 to 78 percent of an adolescent’s daily protein needs.)

The same trend was observed for protein requirements in older women. Of course, protein is also critical for maintaining muscle mass in both older women and men—which is a key factor for health and longevity.

It’s the processing that matters

Remember, the problem with fake foods like plant-based milks (and meats) is the processing. Indeed, processed foods are finally emerging as the real culprit when it comes to hindering human diet and health.

The bottom line is, there’s no health or environmental benefit to eliminating entire categories of whole foods, such as dairy.

So don’t be fooled by supposedly healthy plant milks, no matter how much propaganda you’re exposed to. Instead, eat a balanced, healthy diet full of fresh, whole foods…one that includes two servings of full-fat, organic real milk or dairy per day—and get your vital nutrients the way Nature (not processed food manufacturers) intended.

Sidebar: Lactose intolerant? You can still enjoy real dairy

Many people lose the ability to metabolize lactose (the sugar in milk) after infancy. Consequently, they become “lactose intolerant” as adults.

But the solution is not to drink “fake milks” like almond milk, which require more environmental resources to produce than cow’s milk. Instead, if you’re lactose intolerant, opt for other dairy products like cheese and yogurt.

These products contain probiotic bacteria that metabolize the lactose and reduce or eliminate the sugar content—and the associated digestive and metabolic problems, too.

Plus, probiotics in dairy products improve the health of your entire gastrointestinal microbiome, and they also naturally preserve cheese and yogurt, without the need for added chemical preservatives.


1“Got Mylk? The Emerging Role of Australian Plant-Based Milk Alternatives as A Cow’s Milk Substitute.” Nutrients 2020, 12(5), 1254.