Milk Alternatives: A Dairy-Free Guide

Milk alternatives are dairy-free milk-like juices from nuts, seeds, grains and legumes that are often fortified with vitamins and minerals in an attempt to deliver the equivalent nutrients (taste and consistency) of cow’s milk. Common varieties include soy, almond, oat, hemp, coconut and pea “milks”. Dairy is one of the more common allergens, so as individuals seek another option for dairy milk, more of these plant-based milk-alternatives are flooding the market. In 2013, a market research analysis showed that half of Americans consume milk alternatives.

Plant-based milks can benefit anyone looking to decrease their cow milk intake. Whether an individual is lactose-intolerant, vegan, or looking to increase their protein or decrease their liquid calorie intake, there is something for everyone in the variety of these beverages. Individuals who suffer from gastrointestinal distress, skin or inflammatory conditions are often instructed to remove dairy for a period of time and can benefit from consuming plant-based milk without sacrificing taste or nutrition.

But how well do these milks compare to the real thing?

Benefits of Milk Alternatives

  • There are enough varieties of these plant-based milks to meet any desired effect that traditional cow’s milk meets:
  • Nut milks like almond or cashew milk, as well as soymilk often have as much, if not more calcium than cow’s milk. Almond milk is also a good source of heart-healthy fats and vitamins E and A.
  • Oat or coconut milk can be used for the thicker consistency individuals often desire. These milk alternatives can be used for baking, pouring in your coffee or cereal, or as the base of plant-based ice creams and yogurts.

Downsides of Milk Alternatives

  • Some individuals don’t love the flavors of the various milks and have a hard time replacing cow’s milk in their coffee. However, if you try enough of them, you’ll likely find a good alternative depending on what you’re looking for.
  • Consumers should be aware of a common additive, carrageenan, which is sometimes added to milk alternative beverages. This additive can often cause bloating or digestive distress.
  • 90% of soy products are GMO (genetically modified organisms), including soy milk, and despite the high protein content, it may be better to get your protein through other sources.
  • Alternative milks can be expensive — sometimes $5 or $6 for a gallon, compared with about $3.50 for cow’s milk.

What Are the Best Uses for Milk Alternatives?

Different needs and different occasions call for different varieties of milk. Whether lightening coffee or tea, making overnight oats or adding a creamy texture to a sauce or soup, each serves a different purpose.

  • Almond or cashew milk are great for shakes and smoothies.
  • Oat milk is a go-to for coffee.
  • Coconut milk makes a suitable base for coconut curries or stews.

Overall, there are a few things to keep in mind when buying a plant-based milk alternative. To optimize the intake of nutrients, it’s important to shake the container well before pouring, since vitamins and minerals added may settle at the bottom. Also, always go for the unsweetened, plain (original) or light versions to avoid the extra sugar. You’ll find it satisfying even on its own, with some fresh-baked cookies out of the oven.

Ultimately, the type of non-dairy milk you choose will depend on your personal preference and what nutrients you’re trying to replace by consuming it. Whichever you pick, be sure to read the labels carefully, and seek out other foods for those nutrients that fall short.

What to Look for in Milk Alternatives:

  • A few ingredients as possible
  • At least 7-8g protein, per serving
  • Fortification with calcium and vitamin D
  • The word “unsweetened” and “0g added sugar”
  • Limited saturated fat (especially in ones made with coconut or added protein)
  • Less than 140mg of sodium per cup
  • Nutrients you’re personally concerned about

As always, if you want to substitute or introduce new foods to your diet, we recommend that you always consult with a professional first so they can guide you towards something that works best for you. Give us a call now or reach out to us by filling out the form below:

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