Plant-based milks have benefits for the heart and the planet

Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, weighed in on the benefits of various plant-based milks in a February 1, 2022 New York Times nutrition advice column.

He said that coconut milk, like cow’s milk, is high in saturated fats, but other nut milks have a healthier fat profile. Almond, cashew, and macadamia nut milks, for example, are higher in heart-healthy unsaturated fats, as are soy, hemp, and flax milks. Soy milk provides the same high amount of protein found in cow’s milk, but Willett noted that protein deficiency is not a concern for most U.S. adults.

Willett advised looking out for added sugar in flavored milks, and aiming for less than 10 grams per serving. He also suggested choosing products that are fortified with vitamin D and calcium, although he noted that Americans probably don’t need as much calcium for bone health as they think they do. “When we look at dairy directly, we don’t see that high dairy consumption reduces fracture rates in terms of the evidence,” he said.

Producing plant-based milks is also easier on the environment than producing cow’s milk, which requires large amounts of water and causes high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, Willett said. “It’s important to look at everything through both a health lens and an environmental lens at this point in time,” he said.

Read the New York Times article: I’m Lactose Intolerant. What’s the Best Nondairy Milk Alternative?