In some homes they are already the protagonists of breakfasts. In others they are strained little by little. Meanwhile, the supply does not stop growing: soy, oats, spelled, coconut, almonds … there are more and more types of vegetable drinks, a food that until recently was called milk and that has made a hole in the diet of the Spanish . "They are fashionable", summarizes Daniel de Luis, professor of Endocrinology and Nutrition at the University of Valladolid. And the numbers confirm it: its consumption grows, especially the varieties other than soy, which for decades was the main driver of this market. The market consultant Nielsen offers these data: between July 2017 and July 2018, 164,331 were consumed. The Government calculates a consumption per head of almost 5 liters in 2017.
The concern to follow diets low in fat, the increase of allergies and intolerances and the persevering work of marketing of companies are some of the reasons why more and more consumers choose these products. "The big winners are oatmeal, almond, hazelnut, rice and quinoa drinks," explains Sebastián Rodríguez-Correa, from Nielsen. Although the sector as a whole only grew by 4% in July 2018 compared to the same period of the previous year, beverages based on ingredients other than soybean experienced an increase of 15%. "Almost one in four Spanish households buy these new vegetable drinks and gives entry to your usual diet.
At the same time, the consumption of cow's milk decreases, especially in its entire variant, which has experienced a contraction of 65% in Spain in less than two decades. Demonized for years by fat, only the semi-skimmed has undergone evolution in recent years.
María Torrent, from the IRI Worldwide consultancy, clarifies, however, that the segment of vegetable drinks still represents a niche, since 93% of sales in liters are still milks of animal origin. But he admits that in recent years the growth of the first has been sustained, of 19% in 2015 and 11% in 2016. "Although they have an average price per liter of 1.29 euros [frente a los 0,75 de la leche animal], in recent years there has been a transfer of consumption of cow's milk to vegetable drinks, "he confirms.
The question arises spontaneously: can they be considered substitutes for the milk of a lifetime? The endocrinologist De Luis is categorical. Explains that the proteins of vegetable drinks are of low biological value and that the calcium they contain is more difficult to absorb, no matter how enriched they are: "They are valid to provide fiber or, for example, for people who are intolerant to cow's milk proteins, but they can not replace it. "
"The concept of digesting better or worse from a strictly scientific point of view does not make much sense," says endocrinologist Francisco Botella. Nor does the term "healthy" have it. He explains that the different types of vegetable drinks, whether based on cereals, nuts or legumes, falter at one point: the percentage of their main ingredient. "In the almond is 4% or 5% […]; in soybeans of between 8% and 10%, it is a drink rich in proteins but it has calcium and added sugar, "he says. "They are sold as something natural but people do not read the ingredients." The important thing, he adds, is knowing what is taken.
From a legal point can not be called milk, at least in Europe. The Court of Justice of the EU ruled in June last year that only animal origin can be named in this way. Also, only cream, chantilly, butter, cheese and yogurt products derived from milk, always understood as "that which is obtained from certain mammals", explains José María Ferrer, responsible Food Law of the Ainia technology center, but there is another reason background: "Do not mislead the consumer." An aspect that is also taking into account the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration of the United States, compared to a growth of 61% of these products between 2012 and 2017.
The US agency is reviewing the way in which it catalogs food, and the vegetable products that are presented as substitutes for dairy products are in focus. They have already announced that they will ask the public if they know the difference between them, in order to ensure that their labeling "does not deceive consumers, especially if this can compromise their health and well-being." They also warn that children are at greater risk, since their diet is less varied and they have fewer opportunities to obtain key nutrients than adults.
"A child needs good quality proteins, and if his diet is vegetarian he has a higher risk of entering a deficit; you have to combine and complement ", warns the endocrinologist Francisco Botella. Late last year, after a child died, associations of Canadian dietitians and pediatricians published a joint statement in which they warned that vegetable drinks can stop the potential development of the smallest if they become one of the axes fundamentals of your diet. They added that, although some of these foods can be enriched with calcium and vitamin D or other vitamins, they are low in proteins, with the exception of soy-enriched versions.
These drinks have been considered the most balanced in terms of nutritional contribution between different variants (soy, rice, coconut, almond), according to a study published last January in the Journal of Food Science and Technology. Despite this, consumption is down, both in Spain and in other European markets, according to IRI data.
Also in the store that the Valencian Herbolario Navarro chain has opened five years ago in the center of Madrid soya drinks are no longer the star. The great protagonist is the products based on oats, which fill a whole shelf just at eye level in the center aisle of the establishment. "The most requested is the oatmeal, is very digestive, has a high caloric intake and combines well with coffee. The negative comments have taken their toll on soy, "explains the manager of the premises, the pharmacist Miguel García. Ensures that its clientele is very varied, but that more and more people are intolerant and digestive problems that are passed to this product.