Dairy-Free Alternatives to Milk
The last time I was able to drink regular cows milk without any problems was over 18 years ago. Since being diagnosed as lactose intolerant and really missing the cold, fresh, creamy taste of a tall glass of milk I have made great efforts to find the best non dairy milk alternative.
If you're like me and miss the yummy taste of milk, but just can't drink it anymore due to allergies, lactose intolerance or vegan lifestyle, this review of milk alternatives will steer you in the right direction the next time you are in the grocery store and confused about all the different products out there that promise you great taste and nutrition.
Signs and Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance and Milk Allergies
How do you know if you are one of those people out there who can no longer digest milk? And what about milk allergies? What are the symptoms?
Lactase is an enzyme located on the wall of the intestines that breaks down lactose (the sugar found in milk) into galactose and glucose. Lactose intolerance is when your body no longer produces that enzyme to break down the lactose found in dairy products.
Not everyone is the same when it comes to being able to digest milk as we get older. Both cultural and genetic factors can come into play. Did you know that two thirds of the people in the world are lactose intolerant?
Symptoms may include:
- Adominal Pain
- Diarrhea (loose stools)
- Flatulence (passing gas)
Other symptoms may also include:
- Abdominal Bloating
- Abdominal Distension
The severity of your symptoms can depend on how little or how much your body produces lactase, along with the amount of dairy (lactose) in your diet. The more lactose and the less lactase in your body, the more severe your symptoms will be.
Milk is unfortunately one the nine most common food allergens out there. Symptoms of an allergic reaction to milk or any other item is the overreaction of the body's immune system to a particular allergen.
The most severe form of an allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis.
If you experience any of the following symptoms it may be a result of an allergic reaction:
- Flushed face, hives or a rash, red and itchy skin
- Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, throat and tongue
- Trouble breathing, speaking or swallowing
- Anxiety, distress, faintness, paleness, sense of doom, weakness
- Cramps, diarrhea, vomiting
- A drop in blood pressure, rapid heart beat, loss of consciousness
Are you one of the following?
6 Milk Alternatives to Choose From (and the List Keeps Growing!)
For the most part there are 8 delicious milk alternatives that you can find in most grocery stores, and there are a few other different varieties, but covering all of the choices out there would make for heck of a long Hub! So, for the purpose of this review, I am limiting the selections to what is most popular and relatively easy to find either at a store near you or online. They are as follows:
- Soy Milk
- Rice Milk
- Almond Milk
- Oat Milk
- Hemp Milk
- Coconut Milk
Each of these alternatives to milk usually come in unsweetened, plain (original) and vanilla. Sometimes they can come in other flavours such as chocolate or even strawberry.
The texture of the milk (smooth, grainy, etc.,) and overall flavour can vary not only with each type of milk alternative, but also with each brand. Not all soy milks taste the same or have the same texture or nutrition content, for example. Also, the milk alternatives out there are not automatically organic. Some are, but others are not. Always, always check the label before you buy any product at the store or online!
1. Soy Milk
I remember back in the day when soy milk was touted as the next great super food. Do remember the craze?
Some scientific research and testing later, it appears all the super amazing benefits of soy may have been a little over-rated. However, nutritionists still believe that including some soy in your diet can still provide real benefits to your overall health.
What is soy milk?
Soy milk is made from the fluid of soy beans that have been soaked and ground with water and then strained.
- High in (complete) protein and contains no cholesterol.
- It can be substituted for regular milk in most recipes.
- Approximately 25 grams of soy protein a day, which contains naturally occurring isoflavones, has been found to reduce low density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) by about 10%.
- The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids in soy can inhibit the transport of cholesterol into your blood stream
- Source of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids
- Phytoestrogen in soy can help your body easily absorb calcium and prevent the loss of bone mass.
- Tends to be creamier/richer than most plant milks (great for puddings, desserts, etc.,)
- Can cause allergic reactions in some people.
- Does not contain any calcium if it is not fortified.
- Some brands of soy milk may have a stronger "bean" taste than others.
- Because it is a bean product, it can give you unwanted gas
- Higher in fat per serving (this is what gives the milk a creamier taste)
- Due to the chemical structure of isoflavones in soy milk, it mimics estrogen by attaching to your body's estrogen receptors, thus competing with your own body's natural supply. This has sparked conflicting medical studies that show soy milk is linked to an increase in breast cancer in women, while other studies have shown it may reduce your chances of developing cancer.
As part of a family with a limited grocery budget, I want to get the best value for my money and with soy milk you certainly get more for your money.
I'm not crazy on the "bean" taste, but the smooth and creamy texture of the Silk brand soy milk is really nice. I do feel "full" after drinking it, which is nice. Sugar is also a big thing for me, I like that soy milk has a low serving of sugar per serving in the "original" flavour.
It is also very accessible from pretty much any grocery store or convenience store for that matter!
- How to Make Soy Milk
Step-by-step tutorial and recipe to make soy milk at home, on the stove.
2. Rice Milk
One of the first milk alternatives I began to drink when I found out I was lactose intolerant was rice milk. Not having tried anything else, I found that I didn't mind the taste of the Rice Dream Vanilla. I liked to drink it as is, but when I used it in my cereals (I love my cereal) I found it was like adding sweetened water.
What is Rice Milk?
Commercial rice milk is made from boiled rice, brown rice syrup and brown rice starch. It's made by streaming brown rice through a mill stream and filtering out the pressed grain. In some cases a thickening agent is added in the making of commercial brands of rice milk.
- Low allergen benefit for people with milk allergies.
- Heart healthy because it is low in fat and proven to reduce your blood cholesterol, although it still contains more fat than a glass of skim milk.
- Fortified rice milk can be a great source of calcium, vitamin B, iron, and other minerals as well.
- Because rice milk tends to be a little sweet naturally, it is good to use when baking.
- Relatively inexpensive to make your own at home. Just be sure to include other sources of calcium or a calcium supplement in your diet since rice contains very low amounts of calcium.
- Much lower in protein than other milk alternatives out there, averaging about 1 gram of protein per 1 cup serving. After drinking rice milk you may feel less satisfied.
- One cup of rice milk contains approximately 33 grams of carbs, nearly three times the amount in cow milk. This makes rice milk an unsuitable milk alternative for diabetics or anyone watching their carbohydrate intake.
- Due to the natural sweetness of rice milk, it does not make a good substitute for milk in savory recipes or salty dishes.
I don't like the chalky, watery consistency of the milk.
I don't like the high amount of sugar per serving.
I love my cereal and using rice milk just seems like putting sweet water on it.
It can be easily found in most grocery stores I've been in and it's not too expensive, for the most part.
I don't find rice milk to be very nutritious compared to other alternatives out there.
How to Make Your Own Rice Milk
3. Almond Milk
Almond milk has become my choice for an alternative to milk. I like the combination of the texture (smooth, not grainy or lumpy), the taste (light and nutty) and the price. While it isn't high in protein, I still find it satisfying,
After reading about some recent studies on soy (what I used to drink) I decided to switch to almond milk, just to be on the safe side.
What is Almond Milk?
Almond milk is made from almonds that are soaked in filtered water, then ground up and filtered again to remove the pulp (ground almonds) so that you are left with the milk. Some commercial brands add various sweeteners or flavours to the milk.
- Compared to other milk alternatives, almond milk is significantly lower in calories per serving. Many unsweetened varieties are as low as 40 calories per 240 mL serving compared to the average of 100 for the other milk alternatives out there.
- Lowest in carbohydrates, averaging around just 2g per serving, which is beneficial if you are trying to lose weight.
- The low amount of sugars almond milk naturally contains are also different from other alternatives because it has a low glycemic index, which is good news for diabetics.
- Naturally rich in calcium with each cup containing almost 30% of your daily recommended intake and 25% of our daily vitamin D intake.
- Contains 50% of our daily recommended intake of vitamin E (for your skin) and 4% of our daily iron. Keep in mind these are naturally occurring in the milk and not just added later to fortify the milk.
- Contains no cholesterol.
- Naturally low in sodium at around 5mg per serving.
- Works well in baking both sweet and savory dishes since it is not naturally sweet.
- According to Dr. Oz, it is an anti-inflammatory food and beneficial for people who suffer from pain.
- Because it is a nut product there is a possibility of having an allergic reaction.
- More costly to make if you are interested in making your own at home.
- Low in protein, averaging 1g per 240mL serving
- Considered a goitrogenic food, which means people with thyroid issues may not be able to drink it as consuming large quantities may inhibit the absorption of iodine by the body.
I love the smooth texture of the milk and the nutty taste.
I like how you can get a thicker milk or thinner milk, depending on your taste (I like a bit thinner).
Now that they are selling almond milk in the refrigerated dairy section, you can get more for less money! I like getting good value for my grocery money!
The nutrition content is extensive and I like that it is a good source of calcium and iron naturally.
Tastes fabulous in homemade puddings and custards.
I like that the sugar per serving is 7 g and under.
- My Favourite Homemade Almond Milk + Step By Step Photos — Oh She Glows
How to make almond milk - Follow my step-by-step, picture-based instructions on how to make the creamiest almond milk at home
4. Oat Milk
Oats have long been recognized for the many health benefits it provides to our bodies raw, cooked as a cereal, in baking, and even in facial masks and body scrubs to name a few.
Colloidal oatmeal is used in products such as soaps for people with skin problems such as eczema and like rice, has a low on the allergen list and if you want to make it at home, it's inexpensive and relatively easy to make.
What is oat milk?
Oat milk is made in the same fashion as almonds, rice or soy milk. Raw oats (any kind) is soaked in filtered water and then strained. You can also used cooked oats instead of raw for a creamier milk.
- Perfect for a vegan diet
- Higher source of protein than other milk alternatives, averaging around 4g per serving
- Higher in fiber
- Does not contain saturated fats or cholesterol
- Contains an antioxidant called phytochemicals, which helps protect against diseases including heart disease, stroke, and some cancers
- Provides vitamins and minerals including manganese, potassium, phosphorus, B vitamins, Vitamin E, and Vitamin A
- Contains skin clearing properties that are good for your skin as well as your hair
- Inexpensive to make your own at home
- Fine to use in baking
- Naturally sweeter than regular milk, so it's higher in carbohydrates
- May not be suitable for salty or savory recipes
- Not ideal for people who are gluten intolerant
- Due to its sweetness, higher in carbohydrates and calories per serving
I have never tried oat milk so I can't give it an honest review, but based on the nutrition information I think it has great nutrition benefits.
The high amount of sugar per serving does not make this an alternative that fits my lifestyle.
- How to Make Oat Milk
This is a great tasting option that can be made very quickly and easily from 3 simple whole ingredients: oats, salt and water.
5. Hemp Milk
Hemp milk is considered to be the new kid on the block when it comes to milk alternatives. Hemp milk is made from the seeds of the hemp plant and while many people are concerned that it contains the chemical THC found in marijuana, the truth is, this chemical is not found in or associated with hemp.
What is Hemp Milk?
Hemp milk is made by soaking and then grinding the seeds, then blending them with water and straining out the pulp.
- Rich in both omega-6 and omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid, not (EPA and DHA) found in fish oil) essential fatty acids.
- Contains other nutrients such as magnesium, phytosterols, ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, calcium, fiber, iron, potassium, phosphorus, riboflavin, niacin and thiamine.
- Contains 10 essential amino acids
- Good source of protein
- The protein is easier to digest than soy protein because it does not contain oligosaccharides, complex sugars that can cause flatulence if not properly broken down during digestion.
- Hemp seeds do not have the same allergen level that soy or nuts have
- Perfect for vegetarian and vegan diets
- One serving contains 46% of your daily recommended intake of calcium
- No cholesterol
- Some manufacturers use carrageenan as a thickening agent (known to cause cancer in rats and mice), so read labels carefully.
- Has a unique taste, you either like it or you don't.
- Has a grayish, off-color that may not be suitable for certain recipes.
- Hemp seeds must be obtained from farmers in other countries such as Canada and in Europe in order to produce hemp milk due to legal restrictions in the US for growing hemp.
- More expensive and harder to find in stores than other milk alternatives.
I have to be honest, the first time I tried hemp milk I spit it out! I HATED the taste! Can't say I cared much for the colour and texture of it either. It was kind of grey looking and that put me off. This is too bad because I think overall, hemp is the best alternative based on the nutrition information. It has all the good qualities of all the milk alternatives put into one. I just wish it would taste better!
I also find it a bit more expensive and certainly harder to find. The grocery stores nearby do NOT carry it. I don't have a car so I'd have to buy it online and now that it's November, they no longer ship it until the spring.
6. Coconut Milk
It used to come in a can, but now you can buy it in aseptic containers right next to the rice milk and the soy milk! Coconut milk is no longer looked at as something you use only in baking or certain ethnic dishes, it is considered a real alternative to milk for anyone looking to consume something different.
What is Coconut Milk?
It can be made from fresh grated coconuts and then pressing the milk through a filter or made by blending filtered water with actual meaty coconut (or shredded from the store) and then strained or filtered afterward (or not if you make it yourself at home and like some added texture to your milk, fiber anyone?).
- A rich source of manganese (people who are glucose intolerant suffer from a deficiency of this)
- Rich in phosphorus
- One serving provides nearly a quarter of your daily recommended intake of iron.
- Rich in magnesium
- High in fiber (only if you make your own by blending coconut with filtered water in your blender)
- Contains the antioxidant selenium (known for alleviating symptoms of arthritis)
- Source of potassium
- Source of calcium
- Contains higher levels of vitamin C and Zinc
- Contains high levels of omega 3, 6 and 9 as well as amino acids
- Helps to balance blood sugar levels by preventing insulin spikes
- Contains kinetin riboside, a compound that has been shown to stop the growth of multiple myeloma and other cancers in animal studies, including prostate, colon and breast cancer and lymphomas.
- Boosts your immune system
- The chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) is used in the lining of certain canned foods such as coconut milk, and because coconut milk is fatty, the chemical leeches into the food more easily. Not an issue if you get your coconut milk from a carton or aseptic packaging.
- Guar Gum contained in coconut milk may make it difficult to digest, especially if you suffer from digestive problems (33% of Americans do, apparently)
- Sodium metabisulfite- a preservative known to cause a variety of unwanted problems from skin issues to respiratory toxicity to name a few
- Higher in calories and fat
The only coconut milk I've had came from a can. I love it for cooking, but I couldn't digest it properly, so I haven't tried it since. I don't know that coconut milk from a carton would be any different.
The fact that it may help in the fight against cancer is really intriguing, it makes me want to try it again, despite the high fat content.
I think it is a unique alternative out there and one worth trying!
- Homemade Coconut Milk | Dairy Free Recipe for Coconut Milk
Save money and the environment by making your own organic coconut milk the easy way at home. This recipe is simple and fast with easy cleanup. No preservatives either!
So Which is the Best Alternative?
I have to be honest, that's a bit of a trick question because there is no right or wrong answer.
Choosing which alternative to milk is best for you will depend on several factors:
- Are you looking for something other than milk due to a lactose intolerance or allergy?
- Are you diabetic or suffer from some other ailment or ongoing health condition such as arthritis?
- How much are you willing to spend?
- Would it be for drinking/cooking/baking or just drinking on its own?
- Are you watching your carbs? Sodium? Sugar intake?
- Do you want something that fills you up and leaves you feeling satisfied?
- Do you want to increase your fiber intake?
- Do you need extra protein in your diet?
- Are you following a particular diet such as the Paleo diet?
- Are you watching your calorie intake?
All of these questions will make some alternatives better than others. Then there is the texture and the overall taste? Don't mind a little bit of lumps? Thick or thin? Plain or sweet?
There is also the logistics to think about as well. Do you live a in a city where there are many different grocery/health food stores or do you live where there is only one or two stores to shop from? Do you want to buy online or in person?
Certain factors will be more important than others. For example, taste, cost and availability are what ultimately determined what I would drink. I love the nutrition of hemp, HATE the taste of it. Love almond milk, but Blue Diamond was too pricey for the amount of milk I got. I have 2 grocery stores to choose from and neither sell oat, hemp or coconut milk that does not come in a can. So my choices were almond, soy or rice. I tried many, many different rice milks, soy milks, etc. I finally found a great tasting and economically priced alternative!
So the answer to the question really is, the right milk alternative is the right one that will work with your lifestyle, taste and budget.
How they compare:
Best Nutrition Scores
Lowest Calories per Serving (240 mL)
Lowest Saturated Fat
0 (Rice and Almond-tie)
Lowest Trans Fat
Lowest Total Fat
Lowest Total Carbohydrates
Highest Dietary Fiber
Lowest Cost per 946 mL
$2.86 US (Rice)
Worst Nutrition Scores
Highest Calories per Serving (240 mL)
117 (Rice and Hemp-tie)
Highest Saturated Fat
Highest Trans Fat
None (all scored 0)
Highest Total Fat
None (all scored 0)
Highest Cost per 946 mL
Calling All Non Dairy Drinkers!
Which Milk Alternative Do You Drink?
Better than Milk?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2012 Carolyn Dahl