Dairy alternatives contain less protein and calcium
New safefood report reveals average calcium and protein content of many alternatives to dairy products is less than their dairy equivalent.
Almost half (44%) of 15–24-year-olds regularly consume plant-based dairy alternatives
safefood reminds people to check nutrition labels
4th October 2022: New research¹ launched today by safefood has found that the protein content for the majority of alternatives (e.g., oat, coconut) to dairy products on the market on the island of Ireland to be less than their dairy equivalent products. The calcium content of plant-based alternatives to cheese was also lower. The safefood research looked at the nutritional content of 201 plant-based alternatives to dairy products on sale in supermarkets across the island of Ireland. These products include alternatives to milk, cheese and yoghurt.
Introducing the research, Dr Aileen McGloin, Director of Nutrition with safefood said: “We’ve seen a dramatic rise in both the popularity and number of plant-based alternatives to dairy products available on the market in recent years. Our survey found that on average, the protein content for the plant-based products we looked at was less than the dairy products. The calcium content for plant-based milks and yoghurt was the same as their dairy counterparts but was lower for cheese.”
Because these products vary in nutritional content, I would advise people to check the labels and look for products containing sources of protein, that are unsweetened and fortified with calcium. To take plant-based alternatives to milk as an example, on average these had a third of the protein content of milk, while two thirds of the products surveyed were not a source of protein.
“Because these products vary in nutritional content, I would advise people to check the labels and look for products containing sources of protein, that are unsweetened and fortified with calcium. To take plant-based alternatives to milk as an example, on average these had a third of the protein content of milk, while two thirds of the products surveyed were not a source of protein. This may be particularly important for those moving to vegetarian or vegan diets”, added Dr McGloin.
The safefood research also found that 1 in 3 adults (33%) are now consuming plant-based alternatives to dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt with more than four in ten (44%) people aged 15 to 24 being regular consumers of these products. Among people who choose these products, 1 in 5 (20%) did so because they considered them to be healthier.
When asked³ why they chose plant-based dairy alternatives, one in five people (20%) said they did so because they regarded them as “healthier/better for me”. Just under one in five (18%) said they did so because they “wanted a change/variety” while one in seven (14%) did so because of their own dairy intolerance or that of a family member.
Current national Healthy Eating Guidelines recommend 3 servings a day of milk yoghurt and cheese for adults, and 5 for children and young people aged 9-18, with reduced or low-fat varieties being advised.
For more information or to request an interview, please contact:
Mob +353 (0)87 297 2046
Dermot Moriarty/Maeve Wrixon
Mob: +353 86 381 1034 (Dermot) +353 87 437 2080 (Maeve)
Email: [email protected]
¹Plant-based Dairy Alternatives – products available in supermarkets on the island of Ireland and consumer behaviours and perceptions; safefood 2022
² Plant-based foods in Europe: How big is the market? Plant-based Food Sector Report by Smart Protein Project, European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme Smart-Protein-Plant-based-Food-Sector-Report-2.pdf (smartproteinproject.eu)
³ Safetrak 23 survey; safefood & Ipsos (2021) Face-to-face interviews 834 adults on the island of Ireland between November 2021 and January 2022.
A total of 201 plant-based alternatives to dairy products available in supermarkets on the island of Ireland were surveyed between May and June 2021 and these were divided into the following categories: Milk alternatives (105); Cheese alternatives (38) and Yoghurt alternatives (58).
The products were analysed by looking at the nutritional information displayed on the product label and any health claims (e.g., “a source of calcium”) made on pack. The nutrition composition of the products as labelled was then compared with their dairy counterparts on Nutritics.com, a nutrition analysis software package used to simplify labelling and food analysis.
According to industry estimates², the plant-based dairy alternative market in the UK is worth approximately €284m with the value of sales increasing by 299% over the previous two years.