Research is now confirming that plant-based alternatives cannot be considered nutritional replacements for dairy foods. 

This was one of the key takeaway messages for academics and health care professionals who attended a recent Dairy Council for Northern Ireland nutrition and health webinar.

Dr. Sokratis Stergiadis from the University of Reading presented a study comparing the nutrient composition of UK milk, dairy and plant-based alternatives and the nutritional implications for consumers.

“This study, which was published last year, found plant-based drinks contained less protein, vitamin B12 and iodine than milk,” she explained.

“These differences were reflected in the nutrient intakes of different age groups.

“Our study concluded that plant-based alternatives cannot be considered nutritional replacements for dairy foods.”


“There are potential implications for those who use them, such as not getting sufficient iodine which is already falling short in some diets, particularly those of teenage girls and young women,” Dr. Stergiadis said.

The adverse effect of iodine deficiency was also the subject of a presentation from Prof. Jayne Woodside from Queen’s University Belfast. 

She gave an update on iodine in the diet, confirming that the majority of plant-based alternatives to dairy in the UK and Ireland are not iodine-fortified.

As a result, using unfortified alternatives in place of milk, which is a good source of iodine, may put consumers at increased risk of iodine deficiency.

Her work is also looking at iodine in relation to pregnancy.

“Iodine is important to support normal growth and cognitive function, and is an essential nutrient in pregnancy,” Woodside said.

“Our work has found low iodine levels in pregnant women in Northern Ireland. Iodine deficiency in pregnancy can have lasting implications for a child’s cognitive development.

“We are currently investigating the effect of increased milk intake on iodine status on both mother and child, providing a group of pregnant women with an extra pint of milk/day for 12 weeks and recording the outcomes.”

The focus of a third presentation from Dr. Therese O’Sullivan, from Edith Cowan University in Australia, related the change in her professional stance regarding advice on full-fat dairy.

“Our study suggests that public health guidelines to introduce lower-fat milks and other dairy after the age of two may not be necessary, and healthy children can have either,” Dr. O’Sullivan said.

“When working as a clinical dietitian, I recommended consumption of reduced-fat dairy products rather than regular-fat versions to countless people to improve their health.

“But the evidence from my own research, along with that of others, now suggests that whole fat dairy doesn’t need to be avoided,” she said.