More and more people are shifting away from traditional dairy sources. The reasons are greatly varied. This is creating a need for actively managing calcium intakes. Calcium is needed for a variety of functions in the body. Beyond bones and teeth, calcium plays a role in regulating heartbeat, muscle contractions, nerves, release of neurotransmitters, blood clotting and more.
Non-dairy yogurts are made from soy, coconut, almond, cashew, oat and/or flax milks, and at least one brand is pea-based. These yogurts vary widely in flavors, texture and especially nutrition. The calorie content of vegan yogurts is similar to dairy versions (120-180 calories). Depending on brand, protein ranges from 0-8 grams of protein (a single brand had 13 grams). The lower the protein content the less hunger will be satisfied.
Next, fat content ranges from 3-37 grams. Typically, the lower the protein count the higher fats and/or sugars. In some cases, the added sugar content is higher than dairy versions; ranging from 7-24 grams of sugar. Plain versions contain less added sugars similar to dairy versions.
Calcium and vitamin D along with B-12 are nutrients for greater concern in a vegan or vegetarian diet. The same can be said for those avoiding dairy intolerances. As with non-dairy "milk" options, vegan yogurt calcium content varies ate 25 percent or less of daily recommended values. Vitamin D is less frequently found in vegan yogurt. The percentage is dependent on whether the product is fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Without fortification, one is adding to risk of developing calcium deficiencies.
Similar to dairy versions, vegan yogurts contain probiotics. Again, label reading is important as the strains are not the same. For people with specific GI issues vegan options may be a better choice to build a healthy gut balance when Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Bifidobacterium bifidus are included. It should also be noted not all vegan yogurts meet "clean foods" due to added gums, stabilizers, high-intensity sweeteners and artificial colors.
Finally, if you have known food allergies, read your labels carefully! Many of these vegan offerings are nut based or soy-based. Those with nut allergies of any type should avoid vegan yogurts to reduce risks of cross contamination during manufacturing. For the time being, plant-based calcium may be easier to navigate through vegetables and some fruits rather than "dairy look-alikes."
Dianna Richardson of the Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center in Jefferson City has served communities as a wellness practitioner for more than 20 years. She has her doctorate degree in naturopathy, a master's degree in health and wellness, a bachelor's degree in public health education and is a certified wellness specialist. Core to her practice has been the use of nutrition to enhance health and improve vitality.