Is Pea Milk the Superior Plant-based Milk?

pea milk

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Key Takeaways

  • Pea milk is one of the closest plant-based alternatives to cow’s milk.
  • Store-bought pea milk contains higher levels of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and some micronutrients when compared to many other plant-based milks.
  • Pea milk may be a good option for people with nut or soy allergies.

Plant-based milks made from almonds, soy, and oats have flooded grocery store shelves. But when it comes to the closest alternative to cow’s milk, many experts recommend pea milk. Pea milk, unlike other plant-based options, contains a similar amount of protein, calcium, and vitamin D as cow’s milk.

New research suggests that pea milk also contains a similar amount of micronutrients compared to cow’s milk.

Researchers measured the amount of magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium across 85 samples of plant-based milks. These micronutrients are found in dairy milk, but are not required to be reported on U.S. nutrition labels.

Pea and soy milk stood out in the research as the most nutritious alternatives. According to the report, pea milk had 50% more phosphorus, zinc, and selenium than cow’s milk, while soy milk had the highest level of magnesium of all. In contrast, almond milk only had a very small amount of phosphorous compared to cow’s milk.

However, these findings may not reflect all the products available on the market because the researchers only sampled two to three brands of plant-based milk, according to Ben Redan, PhD, an FDA research chemist and the principal investigator of this plant-based milk project.

Pea milk is high in protein and relatively low in sugar, according to Sarah Zeglen MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian at the Vanderbilt Weight Loss Clinic. She said pea milk has a neutral flavor and the texture is somewhere between almond milk and 2% milk.

Unsweetened pea milk provides 8 grams of protein per serving, which is the same amount as dairy milk. In comparison, almond milk and cashew milk only offer about 1 g of protein, while coconut milk has almost none.

Although pea milk is one of the most nutritious plant-based milks, it’s also one of the more expensive options.

“I don’t think it’s necessary to switch to it for health reasons unless you’re specifically following a plant-based diet, have milk allergies, or other restrictions that affect your dietary habits,” Zeglen said.

Is Pea Milk Right for You?

Since pea milk is made of yellow split peas, it’s a good alternative for anyone who has a nut or soy allergy and can’t consume other plant-based milks.

The best plant-based alternative has been soy milk, according to Amy Reed, MS, RD, CSP, LD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Then when the pea protein milk came along, we added that as the next best thing,” Reed said.

However, pea milk might not be right for someone allergic to legumes or prone to constipation, she added.

Drinking too much pea milk, or any type of plant-based or dairy milk, can lead to additional health concerns besides constipation. Too much calcium in the diet can cause bloating or kidney stones. Reed said that these drinks can displace other things in the diet, which might put an individual at risk of not getting all of the nutrients they need.

“As long as they’re not overdoing it, and they’re sticking to 20 to 24 ounces or less a day, then they need to just have a variety from other foods in the diet to reach their nutrient needs,” Reed said.

Should You Make Your Own Pea Milk?

Ripple is the primary pea milk brand on the market. Without many generic options, this plant-based drink can be cost-prohibitive. Some people decide to make their own pea milk as a way to cut costs.

“If you make your own pea milk, you’ll likely be getting the protein. But it’s not going to be calcium-fortified or vitamin D fortified,” Taylor Arnold, PhD, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Growing Intuitive Eaters, told Verywell.

Reed also warned that young children could be at risk of developing rickets—a condition that causes bone deformities and stunted growth—if they have severely low levels of vitamin D and calcium.

For those who really want to drink homemade pea milk alone without other varieties of milk, she suggested, they should consider taking vitamin D and calcium supplements.

What This Means For You

While pea milk is the most similar plant-based alternative to cow’s milk, there are other ways to get calcium, protein, and vitamin D in your diet.

1 Source
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  1. Craig WJ, Fresán U. International analysis of the nutritional content and a review of health benefits of non-dairy plant-based beverages. Nutrients. 2021;13(3):842. doi:10.3390/nu13030842