How to Shop Plant-Based Beverages

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While walking through the grocery store you may have noticed there are many different options in the plant-based beverage section making it feel overwhelming and hard to know which one may be best for you.  Read on to learn more about plant-based beverages, including why you may choose them and how they compare to cow’s milk.

What are plant-based beverages?

Plant-based beverages are beverages made from plant sources such as:

  • Soy
  • Almond
  • Rice
  • Oat
  • Cashew
  • Coconut

They are often used like cow’s milk, for example, as a drink, in cereal, in coffee/tea, added to smoothies or in baking, etc. 

There are different reasons why people may choose plant-based beverages, including if they have a milk allergy or are lactose intolerance, if they are following a vegan or vegetarian dietary pattern, as well as due to taste preferences, cultural or personal beliefs.

Did you know? While plant-based beverages may be a suitable choice for adults, they should not be given to children younger than two years of age. Learn more about healthy drink recommendations for infants and young children.

How do plant-based beverages stack up against cow’s milk?

When looking at plant-based beverages, it’s important to read the nutrition label to help educate yourself, compare products and choose a product that’s right for you.  Let’s look at and compare a few nutrients:   


When looking at the Nutrition Facts Table you will see cow’s milk has about 9 grams of protein per cup.  When comparing plant-based beverages to cow’s milk, soy beverages have a similar amount of protein (about 7 grams), while all other plant-based beverages have very little protein (0-2 grams), unless extra protein has been added to the beverage.    

Calcium and Vitamin D

Cow’s milk naturally contains calcium, with each cup providing about 330 milligrams.  In Canada, cow’s milk has both mandatory and voluntary fortification of vitamin D.  Under the mandatory fortification level, each cup of milk provides 2.3 micrograms (92 International Units) of vitamin D, while under the voluntary fortification level has 5 micrograms (200 International Units) per cup.  

In contrast, plant-based beverages do not naturally contain high levels of calcium or vitamin D and not all plant-based beverages are fortified with added vitamins and minerals.  So, when selecting a plant-based beverage it’s important to look for one that’s fortified.  Look for “fortified” written in small print on the front label.  Also, look at the Nutrition Facts Table on the back or side panel and compare the nutrients.  Fortified plant-based beverages provide about 300 milligrams of calcium and 2 micrograms (80 International Units) of vitamin D per cup.

Did you know? Calcium that has been added to plant-based beverages can settle on the bottom of the container so it’s important to shake your beverage before consuming


Cow’s milk naturally contains about 12 grams of sugar per cup.  In comparison, “original” flavour plant-based beverages have less sugar (4-8 grams per cup), while “unsweetened” plant-based beverages have no added sugar.  However, flavoured varieties (i.e. vanilla, chocolate) can have double the sugar content.              

Did you know? Unsweetened flavoured plant-based beverages are available that add flavour but no sugars.  For example, “unsweetened vanilla” provides flavour but no added sugars.

Take away

  • When looking at plant-based beverages, it’s important to read the nutrition label to help educate yourself, compare products and choose a product that’s right for you.  
  • If choosing a plant-based beverage, make sure it’s “fortified” which means vitamins and minerals have been added. 
  • If choosing a plant-based beverage, choose those lower in sugars, such as “unsweetened” versions.

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