Plant-based drinks are becoming an increasingly popular choice. In this episode, Jamie and Jimmy visit a secondary school in Teddington to find out why, and weigh up the pros and cons of drinking them as an alternative to cow’s milk.

The intake of plant-based drinks is increasing in the UK. In fact, the sector is predicted to rise by 43% by 2021. This can be for many reasons, such as preferring the taste, managing dairy allergies, environmental or animal welfare concerns, or following a vegan diet.

If you cannot digest dairy, have allergies or follow a vegan diet, plant-based drinks provide an alternative to add to your tea, coffee, and breakfast cereals, or to make classic dairy recipes such as a white sauce for lasagne.

What is in plant-based drinks?

These drinks can be made from many different ingredients, including soya, almonds, coconuts, oats or rice – and a wide selection is increasingly available in UK supermarkets.

However, some almond drinks are predominantly made of water (up to 80%) with just 2-3% almonds. So while plant-based drinks can certainly form part of a nutritious diet, drinking them as a direct replacement of cow’s milk can increase the risk of missing out on key nutrients.

Jamie and Jimmy speak to registered nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed and learn that, in the UK, cow’s milk provides protein, calcium, iodine and B vitamins. Calcium is important for healthy teeth and strong bones as well as muscle function. Meanwhile, B vitamins help keep our nervous system healthy, maintain a healthy immune system and convert the food that we eat into energy. Lastly, iodine is essential for making thyroid hormones needed for metabolism, growth and the development of babies’ brains during pregnancy and early life.

Hang on, there’s iodine in cow’s milk?

Yes! Many of us are surprised that cow’s milk is a good source of iodine, because we often hear more about its levels of calcium. For many years iodine intake in the UK was thought to be more than adequate but recent research has shown mild iodine deficiency in school-aged girls and pregnant women. Iodine isn’t often given the spotlight, but it plays a really important part in keeping us healthy.

What about fortification?

Some companies add nutrients to plant-based drinks, in a process called fortification. However, this is completely up to the manufacturer’s discretion, and Jamie and Jimmy discover that there is huge variation between products. Plus, most fortification doesn’t reflect the nutritional profile of cow’s milk. Iodine in particular is underrepresented in non-dairy milks.

If you’re choosing plant-based drinks as a regular alternative to cow’s milk, we recommend looking for products that have been fortified with calcium, iodine and B vitamins.

What needs to change?

We’re calling for plant-based drinks to be fortified consistently and clearly across the industry. We’d also like the industry to be more transparent about which nutrients are found in popular dairy alternatives. If manufacturers don’t take responsibility, the government might need to legislate to protect consumers from potential micronutrient deficiency.

Join the campaign!

Support our call for clearer info around dairy, and alternatives to dairy. Join Jamie and Jimmy’s campaign here and use #FridayNightFeast to share your thoughts online.

Read more about Jamie’s campaigns on Friday Night Feast, here.