5 Health-Harming Ingredients to Avoid in Plant-Based Milks

soy-milk_mediumPlant-based milk options are multiplying rapidly. In addition to classics like soy and rice milk, you can now find new varieties such as…

  • Almond milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Hazelnut milk
  • Oat milk
  • Hemp milk

In 2013 alone, over 1,000 new plant-based milks appeared on grocery store shelves worldwide! Some of these options are jam-packed with nutrients, while others contain health-harming additives. Understandably, even savvy consumers and those who faithfully read ingredient lists may feel daunted by the sheer array of options. That’s why we’ve put together a cheat sheet of the top 5 ingredients to avoid.

Ingredient #1: Carrageenan

Carrageenan, an additive which can enhance the creaminess and mouthfeel of food and beverages, easily earns the top spot on that list. Scientific analysis has found that this popular emulsifier and thickener can cause digestion problems. According to a study recently
published in Nature, carrageenan appears to interfere with microbes in our gastrointestinal tracts, which could
be contributing to the “rising incidence of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease.”

To make matters worse, testing indicates that so-called “food-grade carrageenan” is often contaminated with degraded carrageenan, which has been linked to the development of
ulcers and even gastrointestinal cancer.  Up to 25% of some samples was made up of degraded carrageenan!

Several mainstream brands, including Silk and So Delicious, have either removed carrageenan from their products or announced plans to do so. Other brands, like Coconut Dream and Starbucks, still use this controversial ingredient.

Ingredient #2: Any Kind of “Gum”

Another ingredient list item to look out for is any kind of gum: guar gumgellan gum locust bean gum … and xanthan gum, for example. These ingredients are often used as thickeners, stabilizers, or emulsifiers. Studies show that gum additives can cause digestive distress, especially for individuals with conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

Ingredient #3: Natural Flavors

This term can refer to any number of less-than-nutritious additives. As recently reported on CNN, these proprietary concoctions of chemicals can contain “anywhere from 50 to 100 ingredients.” These ingredients can be pretty unsavory, for instance…

  • MSGalmond-milk-oatmeal_faceboo
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Solvents
  • Preservatives

To make matters worse, these blends of “natural flavors” can make up 80 to 90%  of the volume of a product! 

Ingredient #4: Synthetic Vitamin D2

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that fosters optimal health, but synthetic vitamin D2, which is created in a lab, does not offer the same benefits. Despite studies that show synthetic vitamin D2 is not a suitable replacement for vitamin D, many manufacturers continue to fortify their plant-based milks with this substance.

Ingredient #5: Corn Dextrin

Corn dextrin, another thickening agent, can be found in several plant-based milks. Corn is an increasingly common allergen, and many people who may not be aware of their sensitives could be intolerant to this additive. If manufacturers used more of the main ingredient—whether that’s coconut, hemp seeds, or what have you—there would be no need for potentially problematic thickeners like corn dextrin.

Bonus Tips for Picking the Best Plant-Based Milk

As is true for most products, your best option is likely the one with the shortest ingredient list. If the ingredients list features multiple words you can’t pronounce, pass it by. Another consideration is where the milk is stored. Refrigerated plant-based milks tend to have a shorter shelf life, which often indicates they contain fewer additives. There are brands out there that contain only a few simple ingredients, like EdenSoy and WestSoy organic unsweetened soymilk, both of which contain only purified water and soybeans. A gold standard to measure all other plant-based milks against!