A woman standing in a kitchen eating yogurt.Share on Pinterest
New research compared the nutritional benefits of eating almond milk yogurt vs its dairy-based counterpart and found one clear overall winner. Aleksandar Nakic/Getty Images
  • A new study has found that, overall, almond milk yogurt is more nutrient-dense than the dairy-based variety.
  • However, there were certain areas where dairy milk excels, such as protein, calcium, and potassium.
  • Nutrition experts say it’s important to consider your individual needs when choosing which type to eat.
  • A plant-based diet can have multiple benefits for health as well as the environment.

When it comes to its nutrient density, almond milk yogurt comes out ahead compared to dairy-based yogurt, says research out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Astrid D’Andrea, the food science major who led the study, noted in her report that plant-based yogurts do have some deficits when compared to dairy, such as less protein, calcium, and potassium.

However, overall, almond yogurt is significantly richer in nutrients while also having less total sugar and sodium and more fiber than dairy yogurt.

To arrive at their conclusions, D’Andrea and her team compiled nutritional information for a total of 612 yogurt products. Among the types of yogurt products examined were full-fat dairy, low and nonfat dairy, coconut, almond, cashew, and oat.

The researchers used the Nutrient Rich Foods (NRF) index to assign scores for the nutrient density of each yogurt in order to compare desirable nutrients — such as protein, fiber, and calcium — as well as those that people would want to reduce, including saturated fat, total sugar, and sodium.

The products were then ranked from highest to lowest nutrient density. Coming out on top was almond, followed by oat, low and nonfat dairy, full-fat dairy, cashew, and coconut.

Hannah Whittaker, who is a plant-based pregnancy dietitian and the owner of Bump2baby Nutrition, shared that there are several key findings people can take away from this study.

“Firstly,” she said, “they should be aware that plant-based yogurts generally have lower protein content compared to dairy-contained yogurts.”

The implication of this, according to Whittaker, is that people who rely heavily on yogurt as a protein source should either look into alternative sources of protein or double-check the protein content of their chosen plant-based yogurt to ensure that they getting adequate protein for their needs.

The second thing to consider, according to Whittaker, is that dairy yogurts tend to have more saturated fat compared to plant-based yogurts.

If saturated fat intake is a particular concern for you, especially when it comes to heart health, then you may want to skew your intake toward plant-based yogurts.

“However, it’s essential to read labels,” advised Whittaker, “as some plant-based yogurts may contain added oils or fats that contribute to their overall fat content.”

A third area of concern is sugar content. “This study found that both plant-based and dairy yogurts exhibited variation in sugar content,” she noted. She advises that people be aware of their sugar intake and choose yogurts with minimal or no added sugars, regardless of whether they are plant-based or dairy.

Finally, she said people need to consider their own specific nutritional needs when choosing between plant-based and dairy yogurts.

“Dairy yogurts generally contained higher amounts of calcium and vitamin B12 compared to plant-based yogurts,” she said, noting that calcium is important for bone health while vitamin B12 is involved in nerve function and red blood cell production.

“On the other hand, plant-based yogurts were found to be higher in dietary fiber which is essential for digestive health and can contribute to a feeling of fullness,” said Whittaker.

She concluded by noting that these are all factors to look at, but “it is essential to consider a balanced and diverse diet overall, beyond just yogurt choices.”

Mary Sabat — a registered dietitian, ACE personal trainer, and owner of Body Designs by Mary — explained that eating a more plant-based diet can have numerous benefits, both for your health and for the environment.

“Plant-based diets tend to be rich in nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber while being low in saturated fats and cholesterol,” said Sabat. “By consuming a variety of plant foods, you can obtain a wide range of essential nutrients, including antioxidants, phytochemicals, and beneficial plant compounds.”

According to Sabat, a plant-based diet may be able to reduce your risk for several chronic conditions, including:

In addition, it can help with digestion and weight management.

A plant-based diet is also more environmentally sustainable, she said. “Plant-based diets generally have a lower carbon footprint and require fewer natural resources than animal-based diets.”

“By shifting toward a plant-based diet, you can help reduce the environmental impact of food production and contribute to a more sustainable future,” Sabat concluded.

Whittaker and Sabat said getting started with a plant-based diet doesn’t have to be difficult. Some simple ways you can get started include the following:

Start gradually

“Start by incorporating more plant-based meals into your diet rather than attempting a sudden and drastic change,” suggested Sabat. “Begin with one or two meatless days per week and gradually increase the frequency.”

Add more vegetables and whole grains to your diet

Whittaker suggests aiming to fill half your plate with a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.

“Try experimenting with different types and cooking methods to discover new flavors,” she advised.

You can also add more whole grains, which are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and help to maintain blood sugar levels.

Reduce your meat consumption

Choose plant-based protein sources instead, like beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, seitan, and edamame, said Sabat. “These foods are versatile and can be used in a variety of recipes.”

Swap dairy for fortified plant-based alternatives

“Experiment with different plant-based yogurts made from soy, almond, coconut, or other plant sources,” said Whittaker.

She suggests finding options that are fortified with calcium, iodine, vitamin B12, and vitamin D in order to make certain that you are getting enough of these important nutrients.

Plan your meals

Sabat advises planning your meals in advance to make certain that you are eating a balanced and varied diet.

“This can help you stay organized, make grocery shopping easier, and prevent reliance on convenience foods,” she said.

Be mindful of fats

“Limit or avoid saturated and trans fats found in animal products and processed foods,” said Whittaker. Healthier choices include fats from plant sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.

Emphasize whole foods

Sabat suggests including a variety of unprocessed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds to your meals.

“Experiment with different flavors, textures, and cooking methods to make your plant-based meals enjoyable,” she said.

Educate yourself

Finally, both Whittaker and Sabat advise that it’s important to educate yourself. There are numerous resources online where you can learn about plant-based nutrition and find recipe ideas. There are also communities you can join to get support and inspiration.