Why I Avoid Most Plant-based Milks from the Supermarket


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First post of the blog, so why not start off with some basics. I often get asked what I do about milk as a vegan. For me, dairy was never a big part of my diet anyway so I guess I cope well without it because I don’t see it as an everyday staple like a lot of people do. Even though I don’t heavily rely on it, I still like to have some plant-based milks around to use in recipes or even just for days I feel like having granola.

When I started looking for dairy-free milks in the supermarket, me being me I read all the ingredients on the cartons and realised a few things, especially with the popular brands. Firstly, there are TOO many unnecessary ingredients. Having made my own milks at home I know that the only ingredients needed are the nut or bean and water—2 ingredients! Secondly that a lot of milks in the supermarket barely contain any nuts or beans at all, meaning you’re pretty much just paying for overpriced water.

For the sake of this post, I will refer mostly to almond milk as it is the most common, but this can be applied to most plant-based milks from the carton.

UNNECESSARY ingredients

When first I checked out the ingredient lists of almond milks in the supermarkets I was surprised to see a list of 8-10 ingredients with words that I didn’t then understand and only a small percentage of almonds. These extra ingredients are often used to cut costs, as stabilisers and to imitate qualities like thickness and texture. While this may not be a problem for some, I try to eat a diet as natural as possible, so I’m definitely very aware of the ingredients that go in my food, especially if it’s something I’m consuming every single day.

Here are some common ingredients listed on plant-based milk cartons, followed by specific ingredient of ones I avoid and why. I’m basing this on UK brands as those are the ones I’m familiar with, but these common ingredients so you can still apply it most milks.

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Specific ingredient I avoid:

  • Vitamin D2 – deceivingly a healthy looking ingredient (because of the word vitamins), there is a fine line between D2 being an effective source of vitamin D and it being toxic when it comes to dosage. Vitamin D toxicity can affect your bones and organs and lead to symptoms such as fatigue amongst other side-effects. Because it’s easier for a low dosage of D2 to become toxic to your body, it can be harmful for children and even for adults in the long run when you are ingesting it everyday in your milk. The best source of vitamin D is still through sun exposure.

  • Carrageenan – also sometimes found in by-products like yoghurt and ice cream, carrageenan is widely used as a thickening agent and stabiliser. There are two form—degraded and undegraded. Degraded carrageenan has a tarnished reputation because it causes adverse inflammation and ulceration, which can lead to other diseases. Whilst it is the undegraded type that is used in food products, studies have shown they can also lead to similar negative effects depending on exposure.

[If you’d like to read more click here and here.]

Why I avoid these ingredients

Small doses of these ingredients are obviously not going to do much harm; if I’m at a cafe or a friend buys a carton for me when I’m at theirs I’ll drink it, but I choose to avoid buying milks that contain these ingredients for everyday use. The long list of ingredients indicate how processed and unnatural these milks are and that should be a sign in itself. For me I think about the accumulative effect these ingredients can have when they become a part of my everyday diet, especially when it’s not needed in the first place! (That’s not to say dairy is any better, I avoid dairy for a whole list of other reasons but that will come in its own post one day…)

Not containing enough almonds

It’s great to see more organic, natural plant-based milks on offer in the supermarket now. Most of the time they only contain almonds, water and maybe a bit of salt, no nasties. My problem is with any brand I’ve seen, they only ever use 2-3% of almonds and the rest is water! I’ve seen some where almond paste is used instead of actual almonds, so again you can imagine how small of a percentage that is.

Anyone who’s made almond milk knows the common ratio is 1 cup of almonds to 3 cups of water, 4 at most! This means 25-30% of your almond milk should be made from almonds. If you compare that to what you’re buying in the supermarket, then really you’re just paying for expensive water. That’s hardly any almonds and you’re really not getting very much from it. While making home-made almond milk may seem time-consuming and expensive, you’re getting a lot more nutritionally and just quantity wise, so it does make it worth it.

In summary, I avoid cartoned plant-based milks mostly because I find them too processed, and processed foods and drinks are something I make an effort to avoid. Also I don’t feel I’m getting much for what I pay for so I’d rather make my own. But if neither of these are a big concern for you then by all means, go for it. The main reason I’m writing this is because I hear so many people talk about these milks as if they’re healthy and nutritious, but I think there needs to be more awareness about reading ingredients and knowing what we’re consuming. Next time you’re in the supermarket read the ingredients and question what you don’t know.

What you can Try:

  • Making your own plant-based milks

  • Buying organic plant-based milks with natural ingredients

  • If you’re in Asia, look in markets for stalls that do it fresh (like fresh soya milk and coconut milk stalls in Malaysia) and always ask for it unsweetened!

Food tipsJoyce Shih