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Plant milks have become a popular choice as more and more of us swerve dairy. 1 in 10 of Pret’s hot drinks are ordered with a dairy alternative, and Sainsbury’s stocks somewhere around 70 different options of non-dairy milk.

So far so green – but what impact is this having on our nutrient intakes? Last week I took a closer look at this topic & realised our post-milk generation might have an issue on their hands. Here’s what I think is important to know.

THE SWAP There’s no direct replacement for cow’s milk in terms of nutrients, and plant milks vary widely in what nutrients they provide. Soya is closest in terms of protein, carbs and fat. Oat milk is higher in carbs, low in fat but has little protein. Almond is mostly water, typically 2% almond, and this means it contains little of any nutrient. Arguably, you can get your protein intake from numerous other foods, but missing micronutrients (vitamins + minerals) are more of an issue.

THE IODINE GAP In the UK, farming practices mean cow’s milk + milk products are a rich source of iodine, providing ~ 40% of our intake. Iodine is needed for thyroid hormones. It’s also vital during pregnancy as it’s involved in the development of the growing babies brains. In the UK we don’t have an iodine-fortification programme, so iodine intake is dependent on our food choices. We need ~ 150 micrograms a day. A glass of cow’s milk = 70-100 micrograms. A glass of plant milk = 1 – 5 micrograms. Fish and eggs do contain iodine, but you need to eat quite a lot of them. And, if you’re plant based, you’ll struggle without a supplement.

THE ISSUE OF FORTIFICATION Whilst you’re right in thinking some plant milks are fortified with calcium and other vitamins, many aren’t. The issue? They can’t be certified organic if they are fortified, which means many companies choose for a clean label over a fortified product.

WHAT CAN WE DO? If you’re swerving dairy, consider what you’re replacing it with. Oat-milk lattes aren’t an issue if you eat fish, eggs and other dairy foods. If you are wholly plant based though, you need to think about choosing a fortified milk or supplement to ensure you’re getting enough iodine, calcium and B12.  Marks and Spencer are the only brand I’ve seen who fortify all their plant milks with iodine, B12 + calcium, to levels which mimic cow’s milk.

Ultimately only time will tell what effect this is going to have on our nutrition status, but I think it’s an especially important consideration for anyone planning to become a mum, as even mild-to-moderate iodine deficiency during early pregnancy is associated with impaired child cognition. If you’re unsure, a dietitian or registered nutritionist can help you work out if you’re getting enough.


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