Safefood argues that plant-based dairy alternatives are not as nutritious as milk products
04 Oct 2022 --- As more people are consuming plant-based dairy alternatives for health and nutrition reasons, Safefood says these products often contain less protein and, in some cases, less calcium than their dairy-based counterparts. A further survey of Irish consumers reveals that these findings conflict with their perception of the nutritional value of plant-based products.
These findings run contrary to recent calls to focus on the health benefits of plant-based diets, including the more than 17,000 doctors who recently called on the White House to reshape its dietary guidelines using dairy and meat alternatives.
“We’ve seen a dramatic rise in both the popularity and number of plant-based alternatives to dairy products available on the market in recent years,” says Dr. Aileen McGloin, director of nutrition at Safefood. “Our survey found that on average, the protein content for the plant-based products we looked at was less than the dairy products.”
“The calcium content for plant-based milks and yogurt was the same as their dairy counterparts but was lower for cheese.”
Not just about the stats
The Safefood survey further found that among consumers who participated, 65% said that a plant-based diet made them feel healthier, and 51% believed that a plant-based diet was better for the environment. Moreover, 36% of participants between the ages of 16 and 24 reduced their dairy intake due to environmental concerns.
The World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations have stated the environmental benefits of plant-based diets and meat and dairy alternatives.
Though Safefood asserts that many consumers may be misinformed regarding the actual nutritional content of their dairy alternatives, it is unable to predict whether that information would actually change consumers’ habits, especially those held for reasons other than mere health.
Checking the labels
The online survey included 201 vegetarian and plant-based products offered at some of the island’s supermarkets, such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and SuperValu, and conducted a survey of 2,000 Irish consumers. It includes 58 yogurt alternatives, 105 milk alternatives and 38 cheese products.
According to Safefood, the average milk alternative contained only 1.1 g of protein per 100 ml compared to dairy milk’s 3.4 g. However, on average, plant-based milk alternatives contained less carbohydrates, sugars, calories, fat, saturated fat and salt than dairy milk. Moreover, they contained about 5 mg more calcium than dairy milk.
Conversely, plant-based and vegetarian yogurts contained 2.7 g less protein and one less mg of calcium than dairy-based yogurts. They also contained 4.8 g more carbohydrates and 2.4 g more sugar. However, they also had less than half the fat, one-third of the saturated fat and salt.
The non-dairy cheeses scored the worst comparatively, according to Safefood. The average plant-based cheese alternative contained 517 mg less calcium, 4.1 less g of protein, 30 more calories, 2 g more of fat and saturated fat and more than twice the salt of dairy cheese. Though, it did contain 2.3 g less sugar.
Edited by William Bradford Nichols
This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirst’s sister website, NutritionInsight.
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