Advertising Promotes Them as a Health Food—But Are They?
Cornucopia’s new report, “Pouring” Over Plant-Based Beverages, takes an in-depth look at what these beverages really offer consumers, how they are marketed, and how they compare to cow’s milk. Amid health concerns and dire climate crisis predictions, more consumers are buying plant-based beverages than ever before. But are they the right choice for everyone?
Beverages made from seeds, fruits, nuts, legumes, and cereals often contain shockingly little plant material. Manufacturers heavily sweeten the drinks to improve their flavor and add thickeners and gums, such as the gastrointestinal inflammatory agent carrageenan, to make them seem creamy.
“Astonishingly, some of these beverages advertised as ‘healthy’ alternatives to dairy have a sugar content equal to or greater than some soft drinks,” said Anne Ross, the report’s lead author and Cornucopia’s Director of International Policy.
To help consumers find the most nutritious plant-based beverages containing the fewest additives, Cornucopia developed a comprehensive scorecard rating over 300 products from 49 brands.
The global market for plant-based beverages is estimated to climb to nearly $20 billion by 2023 with an anticipated annual growth rate of 12%. Several of the country’s largest food marketers have recently acquired plant-based and alternative protein companies. Is the company that pushes Coca-Cola also making your “healthy” plant-beverage?
“Massive conglomerates are eager to get into the plant-beverage market,” observed Ross. “It is a lucrative venture because these products sometimes consist of only a handful of nuts or seeds, water, and additives, while producing high profit margins.”
Marketing suggests that plant-based beverages are equivalent substitutes for dairy milk, but nutrient profiles show these beverages are fundamentally different types of food.
For individuals without dietary restrictions, cow’s milk provides a natural source of bioavailable calcium and micronutrients, often at demonstrably higher levels than in plant-based beverages. Organic milk produced by cows that graze on pasture has nutritional qualities that are naturally superior to conventionally produced cow’s milk and plant-based beverages.
There has been a lot of debate over which “milks,” dairy or plant-based, are better for the environment. The environmental impact of any beverage depends not only on the plant or animal product itself, but how it was grown or produced, sourced, and processed. All conventional beverages have roots in the destruction of native habitat and the use of toxic chemicals.
Cornucopia’s research is a valuable tool for anyone trying to figure out which plant-based beverage is right for them or whether highly nutritious, grass-based, organic cow’s milk is the better option.
The best choice, whether it be a glass of plant-based product or cow’s milk, is always USDA certified organic.