While homemade plant-based milks are delicious, they lack the fortifications of store-bought milks, which can be helpful to meet nutritional needs. This is especially true for families with children who are keeping to a vegan diet.
This post explores fortifying your own plant-based milks, as well as shakes and other blended beverages.
Why bother fortifying plant-based milk at all? Isn’t that playing into criticism that vegan diets are nutritionally deficient?
The reason is simple. Those following conventional diets, whether they know it or not, benefit from public health infrastructure that includes fortifying foods to correct for common causes of malnutrition.
For example, consider vitamin D. Many people who work indoors are low in vitamin D, especially in the winter. Because vitamin D is something that so many people are deficient in, dairy is typically fortified with vitamin D. Vegans don’t benefit from this fortification, so we should either fortify our own food or take a D supplement to match omnivore intake.
Calcium is a less obvious fortification. While calcium is not directly added to dairy, it is typically added to cow feed to boost calcium levels in dairy. There is good evidence that vegans would have better bone health if they consumed more calcium, so it is a good idea to boost calcium where you can. (Calcium-set tofu is also a good idea for most vegans.)
I recommend fortifying homemade milks and shakes with calcium and vitamin D. I recommend a pill strategy for B12, but adding B12 supplements is also reasonable. (I have only chewable B12 in the house, which have too strong a flavor for plant-based milk, but I sometimes throw one in if I’m making a shake.)
I fortify plant-based milk with a vitamin D2 or vegan D3 pill, dissolved into the milk in a blender. I use an 5000 IU pill for a liter or so of almond milk, or for two glasses (~24-32 oz) of a shake. I haven’t found this to have any noticeable taste, or to add any grittiness to the milk. Just be sure to blend well, and avoid pills labeled as chewable or sublingual, as these usually have flavoring. They are fine for shakes, but are not neutral enough for milk.
There is a long history of fortifying foods with vitamin D, so I think we’re on solid ground with this fortification strategy.
I recommend fortifying with a calcium carbonate powder. This makes it easy to experiment with different amounts of calcium, since unlike vitamin D tablets, calcium does have a taste when added to some foods.
For almond milk, I recommend adding 900 mg (the RDI is 1000 mg) per liter of almond milk. This is ~21% RDI for calcium per 8 oz serving. I’d add more, but I find the taste to be pretty strong, and the almond milk gets an unpleasant metallic taste at higher calcium doses.
For shakes, especially protein shakes where you’re already adding powder, I’m often a little more generous with calcium, with 1200 mg or so per 24oz shake (~600mg per serving). Since shakes have a less neutral flavor, it’s less noticeable. Don’t go too crazy though; exceeding 1000 mg / day of calcium may be harmful.
There is good evidence that calcium from soy milk fortified with calcium carbonate is absorbed as well as calcium from dairy (and another, and another). I’m not aware of similar studies with almond milk or shakes, but calcium carbonate is effective as a fortifying additive, at least in soy milk.
Vegans absolutely need a reliable source of B12, but I recommend taking a supplement for that, rather than relying on fortified foods, since supplements are easier to dose, and since B12 deficiency has such serious consequences. See veganhealth.org for detailed recommendations on vitamin B12.
It’s also a good idea to talk to a doctor or nutritionist about any personal vitamin concerns. It may be possible to add other vitamins to blended beverages to meet your personal requirements. Be aware that some supplements (eg. DHA / EPA supplements) may have a strong taste, and may not be a good choice for blending.