Are vegetable drinks good for you?

Vegetable drinks, also known as plant milks, have become increasingly popular in recent years as alternatives to dairy milk. With so many options on the market – from soy milk to almond milk and everything in between – it can be confusing to know which ones are actually healthy. This article takes a detailed look at the nutritional profile of various vegetable drinks to help you decide if they should have a place in your diet.

Nutrients in Vegetable Drinks

When comparing vegetable drinks, it’s important to look at the specific nutrients they provide. Here’s an overview of some of the key nutrients found in popular plant milks:


Protein is important for building and repairing muscles and tissues. Some vegetable drinks are higher in protein than others:

Vegetable Drink Protein per cup
Soy milk 6-10g
Almond milk 1-2g
Oat milk 3-5g
Rice milk 0-1g

Soy milk has the most protein by far. Oat milk also contains more protein than other options like almond or rice milk.


Calcium is essential for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. Here’s how the calcium content compares:

Vegetable Drink Calcium per cup
Fortified soy milk 200-500mg
Fortified almond milk 450-500mg
Oat milk 350mg
Rice milk 20-40mg

Calcium is naturally low in vegetable drinks, so many are fortified with extra calcium. Fortified soy and almond milks contain similar high amounts, while rice milk is much lower.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption and supports immune function. Here are the vitamin D levels:

Vegetable Drink Vitamin D per cup
Fortified soy milk 100-150IU
Fortified almond milk 100-150IU
Oat milk 0-100IU
Rice milk 0-100IU

As with calcium, vitamin D is low in plant milks and needs to be added through fortification. Soy and almond milks typically provide more vitamin D than oat or rice milks.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is important for red blood cell formation and neurological function. Here are the vitamin B12 amounts:

Vegetable Drink Vitamin B12 per cup
Fortified soy milk 1-3mcg
Fortified almond milk 1-2mcg
Oat milk 0-1mcg
Rice milk 0-1mcg

Vitamin B12 needs to be added to plant milks through fortification. Soy milk tends to provide more vitamin B12 than other fortified options.

Healthy Fats

Some vegetable drinks contain beneficial fats:

Vegetable Drink Total Fat per cup
Soy milk 4-8g
Almond milk 2.5-4g
Oat milk 2.5-5g
Rice milk 2-3g

The fats in soy, almond and oat milk are mainly heart-healthy unsaturated fats. Rice milk contains the lowest amount of total fat.

Benefits of Vegetable Drinks

Here are some of the top health benefits associated with vegetable drinks:

1. Lower in Calories than Dairy Milk

One of the main appeals of vegetable drinks is their low calorie content compared to cow’s milk. Here are the calorie counts for an 8oz serving of each:

Beverage Calories
2% cows milk 122
Soy milk 80-100
Almond milk 39-60
Oat milk 80-120
Rice milk 120

Almond milk is the lowest in calories, while soy, oat and rice milk have less calories than dairy milk. This makes them useful options for weight management or weight loss.

2. Lactose-Free

Vegetable drinks are naturally lactose-free, making them suitable options for those with lactose intolerance. They avoid the digestive issues caused by the lactose sugar in dairy milk.

It’s estimated 65% of the global population has some degree of lactose malabsorption or intolerance (1). Plant milks provide lactose-free sources of nutrients for these individuals.

3. Lower in Saturated Fat

The saturated fat content is lower in most vegetable drinks compared to dairy milk:

Beverage Saturated Fat
2% cows milk 4g
Soy milk 0.5g
Almond milk 0g
Oat milk 0.5g
Rice milk 0.5g

The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to no more than 13g per day (2). Drinking vegetable milks instead of dairy can help decrease saturated fat intake.

4. Lower Environmental Impact

Producing plant milks has a much lower environmental footprint than traditional dairy farming. Here’s how the carbon emissions compare per glass (200ml) of each (3):

Beverage Carbon Emissions (CO2e)
Dairy milk 0.9-1.3kg
Soy milk 0.3-0.7kg
Oat milk 0.4-0.8kg
Rice milk 1.1kg
Almond milk 0.7-1.0kg

All the vegetable drinks have a lower carbon footprint than dairy milk. Choosing plant-based options reduces the environmental impact of what we eat and drink.

Downsides of Vegetable Drinks

While vegetable drinks have some benefits, there are also a few downsides to be aware of:

1. Lower in Certain Nutrients

Although fortified with vitamins and minerals, most vegetable drinks are lower in some nutrients compared to cow’s milk, such as (4):

  • Protein
  • Vitamin B12
  • Calcium
  • Riboflavin
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Zinc

Vegans or vegetarians who avoid dairy need to ensure they get enough of these nutrients from other sources in their diet.

2. Contains Antinutrients

Certain plant milks contain antinutrients that can impair mineral absorption, including:

  • Phytic acid in soy, oats, rice, almonds. Reduces calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium absorption.
  • Oxalates in soy, oats, almonds. May bind to calcium making it unavailable for the body.

Soaking, sprouting and fermenting foods can help reduce these antinutrients. Still, the impact on mineral status remains unclear (5).

3. Added Sugars

Flavored varieties of plant milks often contain added sugars. For example:

  • Vanilla almond milk: 7g sugar per cup
  • Chocolate soy milk: 16g sugar per cup

Stick to unsweetened versions to keep sugar intake low.

4. Special Nutritional Needs

While fine for most healthy adults, vegetable drinks may not be suitable as the main milk substitute for certain groups with special nutritional needs, including:

  • Young children
  • Adolescents
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women
  • Athletes
  • Seniors
  • People with certain health conditions

Consult a registered dietitian if you have specific nutrition requirements or concerns.

Which is the Healthiest Vegetable Drink?

With all their variations, which vegetable drink is best? Here is how they compare nutritionally:

Soy Milk

Pros: High in protein. Nutritionally similar to cow’s milk. Fortified with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12.

Cons: Contains phytic acid. Largest environmental footprint of plant milks.

Oat Milk

Pros: Rich and creamy texture. Contains fiber. More protein than other plant milks besides soy.

Cons: Low in calories yet moderate carbs may not be good for all diets. Contains phytates.

Rice Milk

Pros: Lowest environmental impact. Hypoallergenic. Naturally sweet flavor.

Cons: Very low in protein and calcium. High glycemic index.

Almond Milk

Pros: Lowest calories. Lowest carbs of plant milks. Fortified with vitamin D and calcium.

Cons: Low in protein. Contains oxalates. Requires a lot of water to produce.

The healthiest option depends on your specific nutritional needs and diet preferences. Those seeking a cow’s milk substitute may do best with fortified soy milk or oat milk.

Should You Drink Vegetable Milks?

Vegetable milks can be healthy options in moderation as part of a balanced diet for most healthy adults. They provide a source of nutrients without the saturated fat, hormones or lactose of dairy milk. While soy milk comes closest to cow’s milk, fortified almond, oat or rice milks can provide needed nutrients like calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12.

However, vegetable drinks should not completely replace cow’s milk in the diet – especially for children. They don’t match the nutritional profile of dairy milk and deficit in certain nutrients could develop if consuming plant milks exclusively. Those who don’t consume any dairy products need to ensure they get enough protein, calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients from the rest of their diet and speak to a dietitian if concerned.

As with any food, excessive intake of vegetable drinks could lead to an imbalance in your diet. Variety and moderation is key. Vegetable drinks can be one component of healthy eating, along with minimally processed whole foods, quality protein, healthy fats and plenty of fruits and vegetables.


With the variety of vegetable drinks available today, there are lots of options to suit different tastes and dietary needs. Soy, oat, almond and rice milks can all be nutritious choices when consumed as part of a balanced diet. Just be mindful of nutrients that may be lacking compared to dairy milk and aim for fortified varieties if relying on plant milks as your main milk substitute. Moderation is key to ensure vegetable drinks fit into your healthy diet.

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