Thinking of ditching cow milk? Here's the pros and cons of plant milks...

Cow’s milk is a good source of calcium and protein and contains all nine essential amino acids
Cow’s milk is a good source of calcium and protein and contains all nine essential amino acids

Plant milks are on many people’s shopping lists these days, whether making the switch for the good of your health, or the good of the planet.

Of course, when making your choice, read the label, choose the one that has the fewest ingredients and always choose the unsweetened versions.

It is worth noting that if you choose organic plant milks, they are not fortified, so if you are looking for a source of calcium and other nutrients, choose non-organic versions.

Here is my guide to help you decide what to add to your shopping list.


Cow’s milk is a good source of calcium and protein (semi-skimmed milk contains 3.6g per 100ml) and contains all nine essential amino acids. It is also a significant source of iodine in the diet – a nutrient essential for healthy thyroid function that may people in Ireland and Britain are lacking, so it is important to bear this in mind if you are cutting dairy from your diet.

Read more:Nutrition: How to get more protein - the healthy way

Read more:Nutrition: Top tips to help balance your cholesterol

Here are some of the alternatives, and a summary of their environmental and nutritional credentials:


Almond milk is low calorie and low fat, but it is also very low in protein (0.5g per 100ml). Many brands of almond milk contain just 2 per cent almonds, with the biggest ingredient being water.

Environmentally, almond production uses more water than cow’s milk production and almond farming has had a big impact on bee populations in areas where they are grown intensively.

Plant-based milk drinks are an alternative to cow's milk – but choose carefully
Plant-based milk drinks are an alternative to cow's milk – but choose carefully


Coconut milk is higher in saturated fat than other plant milks, although much of this is in the form of medium chain triglycerides, a fat that has been associated with improving insulin sensitivity and blood sugar balance.

Coconut milk is low in protein (0.2g per 100ml) and is often sweetened.

Coconuts grow in tropical climates, where deforested land is increasingly used for their production, so they can have a hefty carbon footprint.


Like other nut milks, hazelnut milk is low calorie, low fat but also low in protein and many contain less than 3 per cent hazelnuts.

It is likely to be a fairly sustainable option though, as hazel trees are hardy and don’t require a lot of pesticides.


Similar to the nut milks, hemp milk is low calorie, low fat and low protein, but it does have the benefit of being the highest source of omega 3 and omega 6 fats of all the nut milks tested by Which?.

Regarded as a sustainable crop, hemp milk is good choice for the planet.


Oat milk is really great choice for environmental reasons. It has a low impact, grows locally and has minimal impact on biodiversity.

Nutritionally, it is low fat, but also low protein.

Oat milk is a source of beta-glucans, a polysaccharide that has been show to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. A 250ml glass contains a third of the daily recommended amount.


Pea milk is a newcomer to the plant milk scene, but it has promising environmental credentials, especially when peas are grown closer to home than some of the ingredients in other plants milks.

Nutritionally, pea milk is one of the better source of protein (3.3g per 100ml) – comparable to cow milk or soya milk containing all of the essential amino acids. Its iodine content is also similar to cow’s milk.


Rice milk is higher in carbohydrates (and therefore sugar) than other plant milks. It should not be given to children aged under five-years-old as it contains arsenic – the content is safe for adults, but not young children.

Rice production has a very high carbon emission (similar to cow’s milk), as it requires a lot of water and one of the major by-products is methane.


Soya was once the most popular choice as a vegan or plant-based alternative milk, but it has come under scrutiny because if its impact on biodiversity and deforestation.

The nutrition of soya milk is decent. It has similar levels of protein to cow’s milk (3.3g per 100g), but there is an increase in soya allergies and intolerances, so bear this is mind when making your choice.