Navigating Plant-Based Beverages

Have you noticed the growing space in grocery stores for products like almond, cashew, and oat milk? Between 2018 and 2020 the popularity of plant-based beverages has greatly increased1, with 40% of Canadians seeking to consume more plant-based foods2. Consumers may choose these products because of intolerances, allergies, personal beliefs or taste preferences. This post does not intend to evaluate the pros and cons of choosing plant-based milks, instead, it’s a resource to help you make informed nutrition decisions when consuming them. We will use “PBM” to encompass plant-based beverages/plant-based milk products.

Cow’s milk has traditionally been consumed and valued as a source of calcium, protein, and vitamin D3. These nutrients are especially important for bone health, growth and development3. Some PBMs lack one or more of these nutrients or contain amounts that are not comparable to cow’s milk. However, it is not necessary to consume dairy foods to meet those nutrient requirements, and diets that limit or exclude dairy products can be healthy and nutritionally adequate when properly planned4

Two questions that I want you to answer are:

  • Have I replaced my consumption of cow’s milk with a PBM? 
  • Am I consuming other foods throughout the day that are sources of protein, calcium and vitamin D?

Your answers to the above questions will help you to navigate which nutrients you need to be aware of when choosing a PBM. According to the FDA, most consumers understand that products marketed as PBMs do not contain cow milk products, however, they don’t always understand the specific nutrients to be aware of when choosing a PBM5. So let’s take a closer look.

Calcium Vitamin DProtein 
Recommendation  (For Adults)61000 mg/day 15 mcg/dayVaries based on life stage health status and lifestyle.
1 Cup Serving 
Cow’s Milk (2%)7309 mg 2.6 mcg 8.5 g 
Fortified Soy Milk8 319 mg 2.2 mcg 7.4 g 
Organic Almond Milk9 20 mg 0 mcg 3 g 

*Try to think about which important nutrients you want to get from your beverage, or if you’re getting these nutrients from other sources throughout the day.


Another consideration when choosing a PBM is the sugar content. Many products come in different flavours, like chocolate, vanilla, or sweetened original. You may want to consider looking for products labelled as “unsweetened” to avoid consuming excessive calories from sugar-sweetened beverages. While 1 cup of unsweetened soy milk has only 1g of sugar8, 1 cup of sweetened vanilla-flavoured almond milk can have about 8g of sugar10, compared to 1 cup of 2% cow’s milk containing about 13g of sugar7.  

Where can you find this information?

On the back of all food products, you will find a nutrition facts table, which states the amount of each nutrient per serving. 

Key tip! When you’re in the grocery store grab two different milk types and compare their nutrition facts table (e.g. 2% Cow milk vs. fortified soy beverage, or oat milk vs. cashew milk) to decide which product will best meet your needs or which are most similar to cow milk. 

Some products also have a “voluntary nutrient statement” on their packaging to help you identify missing nutrients11. For example, if you look closely at many almond, oat, rice or other nut milks you may see the phrase “not a source of protein” because their protein content is significantly less than that of cow’s milk. 

Should children be consuming plant-based beverages?

Children are in an important phase of growth and development, so they require sufficient protein, calories and micronutrients to meet their growing needs. Therefore, PBMs are not recommended for children under 2 years old as a source of calories or protein12. Instead, breast milk, 3.25% cow’s milk or formula (which could be soy-based) are recommended as a complimentary beverage once children start eating solid foods12. For children, 2 years and older, fortified soy milk is recommended as the best PBM choice12

As the variety of food products continues to increase, the choices can become overwhelming. You can always refer to a trusted nutrition resource to help you make the decisions easier such as:


  1. Government of Canada. Customized Report Service – Milk alternative beverages (plant-based beverages) in Canada and in the United States. May 12, 2021. Accessed September 11, 2023. 
  2. Canada NRC. Plant-based protein market: global and Canadian market analysis. Government of Canada. August 12, 2022. Accessed September 11, 2023. 
  3. Dairy Farmers of Canada. How Milk Compares To Plant-Based Beverages. Dairy Nutrition. Published August 1, 2021. Accessed September 11, 2023. 
  4. Caspero A, Klemm S. Building a Healthy Vegetarian Diet: Myths and Facts. Eat Right, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Published October 4, 2021. Accessed September 11, 2023. 
  5. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Plant-based Milk Alternatives (PBMA). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. February 22, 2023. Accessed September 11, 2023. 
  6. Alberta Health Services. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Government of Alberta Personal Health Portal. May 16, 2023. Accessed September 11, 2023. 
  7. Nutrient profile. Milk, fluid, partly skimmed, 2% M.F. Government of Canada. March 1, 2023. Accessed September 11, 2023. 
  8. Nutrient profile. Plant-based beverage, soy, enriched, all flavours, unsweetened. Government of Canada. March 1, 2023. Accessed September 11, 2023. 
  9. Organic unsweetened almondmilk. Califia Farms. Accessed September 11, 2023. 
  10. Vanilla Almondmilk. Califia Farms. Accessed September 11, 2023. 
  11. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Draft guidance for Industry labeling of plant-based milk alternatives … FDA. February 2023. Accessed September 11, 2023. 
  12. Alberta Health Services, Registered Dietitians. Plant-based beverages for children  May 2016. Accessed September 11, 2023. 

Written By Emma Wiwchar, Edited by Doug Klein. Photo by

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