Is Plant-Based Beverages a Healthy Choice?

It is obtained from a variety of plants, such as legumes, nuts, seeds, cereals, and pseudo-cereals (*). The consumption of this kind of beverage has been growing in popularity for the last years because they are a good source of nutrients, which contributes to the daily intake needs along with a balanced diet. However, there are still some misconceptions about them:

1. Plant-based beverages are a bad source of calcium, which can lead to calcium and vitamin deficiency. Compared to the calcium content in cow milk (119 mg/100g), plant-based alternatives are also good calcium sources like sesame seeds (975 mg/100g) and almonds (269 mg/100g) (*). However, the real issue associated with plant-based beverages is the amount of raw material in the final product (often below 3-4%). Due to the small amount of raw material, the product contains a low calcium content, unless it is calcium-fortified. Therefore, every plant-based beverage source has nutritional differences, such as calcium content and certain vitamins present at low levels or even absent (*). Nevertheless, this is not a problem if you are obtaining vital nutrients in a balanced diet.

The plant-based beverage is a good source of nutrients with nutritional differences. However, you need to know how to choose the best products.

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2. Plant-based beverages lead to protein deficiency. There are good protein-rich plant beverage options such as soy (8 gr per cup based on the average commercial value) (*) and pea protein milk (10 gr per cup based on the average commercial value). The latter is suitable for those who have soy-related concerns like allergies, genetic modifications, pesticides during its production, among others (*). Nevertheless, the amount of protein also depends on the amount of raw material. Although these beverage sources have a high protein content, most of them offer a low quality in essential amino acids. Consequently, you should not consider that drinking a plant-based beverage is supplying your protein needs, which must be complemented with other foods. However, if you are counting on these plant-based alternatives for your daily protein intake, choose pea or soy which contain high protein levels (*; *).

Plant-based beverages can contribute to the daily protein intake, but you should not depend on them to supply your needs. Instead of that, you can use them as a complement along with a balanced diet.

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3. Plant-based beverages are just water, sugar, and artificial ingredients. Most of the commercial vegetable beverage is rich in chemicals, such as colorants, thickeners, emulsifiers, sugars, additives. There are others with soy, canola or sunflower oil, which are poor sources of Omega 6 and highly inflammatory (*). Fortunately, there are alternatives on the market, by checking the nutritional facts and choose those that fit your personal interests, for example with a high amount of raw material and without added sugars and those ingredients that can cause an issue for your health.

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4. Plant-based beverages are low in calories. It is directly related to the beverage source and the amount of raw material, for example, there is commercial almond beverage with just 30 calories. Keep in mind that 1 almond has about 7 calories according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). If the box is labeled 30 calories per cup, the cup will contain about 4,28 almonds. Thus, the calorie content is reflecting a poor nutritional profile.

The best sources of plant beverages are those without sugar added and with a high amount of raw material.

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5. Plant-based beverages are made of ingredients that are responsible for allergies: soy and nuts. Actually, there are many alternatives such as rice, coconut, hemp, quinoa, pea milk, and sesame seeds.

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6. Plant-based beverages are suitable just for people who have a cow milk protein allergy or lactose intolerance. Plant-based beverage alternatives have been growing in popularity due, in part, to dairy issues (*). Many people are concerned about cow milk components (*), the animal suffering associated with its production (*), and the effects on the environment (*). On the other hand, some people just want to change their lifestyle towards a healthier diet (*) or try dairy alternatives to add to their coffee or tea.

Some good plant-based beverage options on the market

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Plant-based beverages are a good alternative for everybody. The variety of products can meet tastes and needs. Thus, vegetable beverages are a good source of nutrients based on their raw material content, which contributes to the daily intake needs along with a balanced diet.

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