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Canada’s New Food Guide: Where do plant-based beverages fit?

March 7, 2019 by HealthyFamilies BC

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This blog post is the fourth in a series of four posts about Canada’s new Food Guide, which was released by Health Canada on January 22. Last week we discussed healthy eating habits, including the recommendation to cook more often. If you haven’t already, you can check it out here.

Canada’s new Food Guide recommends we choose protein foods that come from plants more often. In a marketplace with an abundance of plant-based beverages such as almond, rice or hemp beverage for sale, this new recommendation has caused people to ask what this means for plant-based drinks. The information provided in this blog post compares the nutrients found in cow’s milk and plant-based beverages to help you make an informed decision about what’s right for you and your family.

Protein

It might surprise you to learn that most plant-based beverages are not good sources of protein. While an average 250 millilitre (1 cup) of cow’s milk has 8.5 grams of protein, the only plant-based beverage that comes close to this amount is soy beverage at 7.4 grams. Other beverages have much less:

  • hemp and oat beverage have 3 to 4 grams;
  • almond beverage has 1.6 grams;
  • cashew and rice beverage have about 1 gram; and
  • coconut beverage has no protein.

For this reason, fortified soy beverage is the only plant-based beverage that is considered part of Canada’s Food Guide as a “protein food.”

Fat

Canada’s new Food Guide recommends choosing foods that have mostly healthy (unsaturated) fat instead of foods with primarily saturated fat. Doing this can help lower your risk of heart disease.

Milk and milk products contain mostly saturated fat, so the new Food Guide recommends choosing those that are lower in fat (only for persons over 2 years of age). Skim, 1%, and 2% milk are considered lower fat choices. Skim has 0.2 grams of fat per 250 millilitres, 1% has 2.5 grams, and 2% milk has 5.1 grams. Whole (3.25 %) milk has 9.4 grams of fat.

Most plant-based beverages have 2.5 to 4.5 grams of fat per 240 millilitres. With the exception of coconut beverage, which has mostly saturated fat, plant-based beverages have mostly unsaturated fat.

Vitamins and minerals

Cow’s milk is naturally an excellent source of calcium, and in Canada, it must be fortified with vitamin D. Some plant-based beverages are fortified with nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D, but some are not. Look for this information on the Nutrition Facts. The % Daily Value will tell you if there is a little (5% or less) or a lot (15% or more) of a nutrient. A % DV higher than 15% for calcium and vitamin D means the product has been fortified with those nutrients. You can also contact the product manufacturer to ask.

It is recommended that you shake plant-based beverages each time before pouring a glass because the nutrients added can settle to the bottom of the container.

Sweeteners

Canada’s new Food Guide recommends unsweetened lower fat milk and plant-based beverages as drink options that can replace water. “Unsweetened” is important because sugary drinks may lead to increased risk of cavities in children, and obesity and type 2 diabetes in all ages. When selecting milk or plant-based beverages, choose those that are plain or unsweetened.

A note about infants and young children

The information presented above can be used when choosing whether cow’s milk or a plant-based beverage is the best choice for an older child or adult. However, for infants and young children (who are no longer breastfed), there are very clear recommendations:

  • Whole cow’s milk is recommended for infants nine to 12 months until at least two years of age
  • Cow’s milk or fortified soy beverage are recommended for children between two to eight years of age

At these ages, plant-based beverages (other than soy) do not meet the higher nutrition needs of infants and young children. If you have concerns about your child’s growth or nutrition, talk to your health care provider or a registered dietitian about what you can offer. 

HealthLink BC’s registered dietitians offer web-based, telephone and email food and nutrition services to support the information, education and counselling needs of B.C. residents and health professionals. Registered dietitians at HealthLink BC are available by calling 8-1-1 or by email.


Reccomended Resources: 

Canada’s Food Guide

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