Plant-Based Alternatives to Cow’s Milk

Oat milk, spelt drink, rice drink, almond milk, hemp milk, etc. – the supermarket shelves are full of plant-based alternatives to classic cow’s milk.

In the Metabolic Balance nutrition plans, you will only find soy milk alongside animal-based varieties such as cow’s, sheep’s and goat’s milk. Why is that? Has Metabolic Balance missed the trend and is sticking to long-established, obsolete opinions? Isn’t it possible to add another plant-based alternative to the nutrition plan and replace the classic cow’s milk and the well-known soy milk? The clear answer is: “No, it isn’t.”

Assuming that cow’s milk can simply be “replaced” by a plant-based variant is wrong from the start. A vegetal drink might be a refreshing soft drink, but it can never be a full and adequate substitute for cow’s milk. Cereal or nut drinks mainly consist of water – approx. 90% – so their nutrient content is not comparable to that of the original cereal grain or nut, but is far below that.

Cow’s milk, on the other hand, serves as the calves’ only food for weeks and provides all the nutrients to help calves grow into handsome cows. And this does not work with plant-based alternatives, which do not only lack important vitamins but above all high-quality proteins that the body can easily metabolize.

It is therefore not surprising that, according to a U.S. study, milk made from cereal products is not suitable for infant nutrition and cannot be considered a wholesome, adequate baby food, as it lacks proteins, vitamins and minerals that are vital for a child’s development.

But nuts are rich in valuable fatty acids and B vitamins, and oats have a lot of dietary fiber and minerals?!

Yes, that’s correct. From a nutritional point of view, the source products of alternative milk drinks in their unprocessed state often have a variety of valuable vitamins, proteins, fats, minerals and/or fiber. This is absolutely true. But if you look at the processing steps of the various milk types, it quickly becomes clear that the end product no longer has the same properties as the unprocessed basic product. 


The alternative types of milk are usually produced with the help of extensive technological processing. The grains/nuts are crushed, mixed with water and then boiled. Enzymes are added to the resulting pulp that, among other things, break down the starch and thus trigger the fermentation process, which takes several hours and then results in a watery pulp which is finally sieved and filtered. This liquid usually does not look like milk, as it is quite clear. In order to obtain the desired whitish color of milk, certain vegetable oils are added, which form an emulsion with the liquid and thus create the typical color of milk.

The soy milk production process is similar to that described above. The soybeans are first soaked in water, then ground, boiled and filtered. However, no enzymes or edible oils are added there. In some cases, the resulting soy milk, like cow’s milk, is finally pasteurized and homogenized.

The nutrient content of the various plant-based drinks varies extremely. However, most of them have only a very small amount of protein. In addition, the biological value is not very high, i.e. only a fraction of the protein can be converted into the body’s own protein. Due to the extreme processing and exposure to heat and mechanics, many of the valuable ingredients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber have been lost.

The industry knows what to do, of course, and adds various additives such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids and the like to many milk drinks. Even if the additives seem “sensible” and healthy at first glance, appearances are deceptive: such additives are often far less easily absorbed than the natural nutrients in cow’s milk.

Conclusion by Metabolic Balance

Due to the numerous additives in plant-based milk alternatives and their low protein and nutrient content, most of those alternatives cannot be used as a substitute for cow’s milk.

Soy milk, however, takes a special position in this respect, as far fewer chemicals are required for its production than for the other milk alternatives. In addition, soy milk contains about 3-4% protein, which is relatively high compared to other milk alternatives. Of course, there are also justified objections against soy milk, such as genetic manipulation, the clearing of rainforests or the high concentration of allergens, as well as a possible hormonal effect on the organism. Nevertheless, from a nutritional point of view, soy milk appears to be a suitable food to replace cow’s milk at least to some extent.

If you are not comfortable with the idea of cow’s milk and/or soy milk, don’t worry; Metabolic Balance offers a variety of different breakfast options so that you can be happy, full and well supplied with all the important nutrients even without milk or milk alternatives.