Plant-Based Yogurts Are Healthier Than Dairy, Says New Study

June 19, 2023

A new study recently published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Nutrition compares the nutritional benefits of plant-based yogurts to dairy-based yogurts. Peaceful Dumpling readers are aware that plant-based products are usually more environmentally sustainable than animal products. However, dairy foods like yogurt are frequently touted as health foods packed with calcium, protein, and other nutritional benefits. Additionally, rising interest in gut health has led to an increased interest in yogurt for its probiotic properties. Yet, it is no secret that animal agriculture has alarming repercussions for both the environment and animal welfare. In response to these concerns, recent years have seen a significant increase in the availability of non-dairy alternatives. In response to the rise of plant based alternatives, this study analyzed different types of dairy and non-dairy yogurts to determine which option is the most nutrient dense.

bowl of yogurt, bowl of berries, and bowl of granola on a wood table with photos

Why are plant-based yogurts better for the environment?

The livestock industry is a significant producer of greenhouse gasses. A large percentage of these emissions come from cows, including dairy cows. Poor management of cow manure emits methane, pollutes waterways, and contributes to habitat destruction. Methane is particularly worrying since it is a gas that is much more potent than carbon dioxide and has a longer lasting effect. Additionally, the land and water required for livestock and their feed can destroy important natural ecosystems.

As the world battles climate change, these impacts cause increasing climate and water insecurity in many areas where livestock farming is a dominant industry. Plant-based alternatives to dairy offer a way to mitigate some of these impacts. Even almonds, a notoriously water thirsty and pesticide heavy crop, are more environmentally friendly than animal dairy according to this article from BBC News. Less land is typically required to grow plant-based options than for farming dairy, which may also be an important consideration as the global population grows. 

How Was the Study Conducted?

The study’s researchers collected nutritional information for different yogurts from the Mintel Global New Products Database. They then placed the yogurts into different categories based on their main ingredients. The categories were full-fat dairy, low and nonfat dairy, coconut, cashew, almond and oat. Then, they analyzed the nutritional contents of the different yogurts using the Nutrient Rich Foods Index. This index is “a comprehensive food guidance system that assigns a score based on the nutrient density of individual foods”, according to the authors of the study.

Yogurts were compared using “nutrients to encourage” which include protein, calcium, and iron. They were also compared using “nutrients to limit” which include sodium, sugar, and saturated fats. After analyzing the results, researchers found that two types of plant based yogurts, almond and oat, are more nutritionally dense than dairy options. Ultimately, they found that plant based yogurts tend to be lower in sugar, sodium, and saturated fats then dairy yogurts. Almond yogurt was ranked as the most nutritionally dense option.

What Plant-Based Yogurt is the Best?

According to the published study, almond and oat yogurts are the most nutritionally dense plant based options. They outscores low-fat, fat-free, and full fat dairy yogurts. Cashew and coconut yogurts were found to be less nutritionally dense than dairy products. Soy based yogurts were excluded from the findings due to a small sample size. However, it is worth noting that soy based dairy alternatives are often found to be the most similar to their dairy counterparts. The study does remark that plant based yogurts tended to score lower in protein and calcium. They are also not significant sources of Vitamins D or B12, which are present in animal products. For these reasons, they state that fortification may be the next step to improving plant-based yogurts nutritional profiles. 

How to Utilize Plant-Based Yogurts

Many small and chain retailers now sell plant based options. Plant-based yogurts can be used in place of regular yogurt in a variety of recipes. Check out PeacefulDumpling author, Emily Iris Degn’s recommendations for the best vegan yogurts in this article. Or try one of these recipes for vegan tahini yogurt sauce, quinoa salad with vegan yogurt dressing, or use almond yogurt to make a gluten-free marble cake!

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Photo: Drica Pinotti via Unsplash

Willow Lynn
Willow Lynn is an animal and outdoors loving vegan. Originally from the Blue Ridge Mountains, she is now lucky to live in Hawaii. Willow enjoys reading, writing, gardening and hiking.


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