Dairy alternatives contain less protein and calcium, study shows
New research launched by safefood has found that the protein content for the majority of alternatives (e.g., oat, coconut) to dairy products on the market in Ireland to be less than their dairy equivalent products. The calcium content of plant-based alternatives to cheese was also lower. The safefood research looked at the nutritional content of 201 plant-based alternatives to dairy products on sale in supermarkets across Ireland. These products include alternatives to milk, cheese and yoghurt.
“We’ve seen a dramatic rise in both the popularity and number of plant-based alternatives to dairy products available on the market in recent years," said Dr Aileen McGloin, Director of Nutrition with safefood. "Our survey found that on average, the protein content for the plant-based products we looked at was less than the dairy products. The calcium content for plant-based milks and yoghurt was the same as their dairy counterparts but was lower for cheese.
“Because these products vary in nutritional content, I would advise people to check the labels and look for products containing sources of protein, that are unsweetened and fortified with calcium," added McGloin. "To take plant-based alternatives to milk as an example, on average these had a third of the protein content of milk, while two thirds of the products surveyed were not a source of protein. This may be particularly important for those moving to vegetarian or vegan diets."
The safefood research also found that one in three adults (33%) are now consuming plant-based alternatives to dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt with more than four in 10 (44%) people aged 15 to 24 being regular consumers of these products. Among people who choose these products, one in five (20%) did so because they considered them to be healthier.
When asked why they chose plant-based dairy alternatives, one in five people (20%) said they did so because they regarded them as 'healthier/better for me'. Just under one in five (18%) said they did so because they 'wanted a change/variety' while one in seven (14%) did so because of their own dairy intolerance or that of a family member.
Current national Healthy Eating Guidelines recommend three servings a day of milk yoghurt and cheese for adults, and five for children and young people aged 9-18, with reduced or low-fat varieties being advised.
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