The 12 Best Non-Dairy Substitutes for Milk | What is the best alternative to milk? How to choose it? | 12+ Plant-Based Alternatives
Non-Dairy Substitutes for milk are now ample and the choice between them is very hard, as it doesn’t only come down to taste only for milk alternatives, but nutrition, cost, and ingredients as well.
While many choose to exclude animal-derived products from their diet for personal preferences or ethical reasons, many have no choice but to eliminate cow’s milk and find a suitable vegan milk source, such as almond milk or coconut milk.
But, what is the best alternative to milk? How can one choose with all the options available?
What are the reasons why people do not drink cow’s milk?
The most common reason why someone chooses not to drink milk is either an allergy or intolerance; in fact, it is estimated that surprisingly up to 75% of the world’s population is intolerant to lactose, which is the protein found in milk.
Following the impossibility, there are ethical reasons why people choose not to intake dairy products (i.e.: vegans do not eat/drink/use any product that comes from an animal source) and others concerned over health reasons (i.e.: concerned over the potential contaminants in the animal itself — like the antibiotics used for cows).
What are the main nutrients dairy/cow’s milk offers?
Let’s start by noticing what are the main nutrients cow’s milk offers.
Milk is an excellent source of proteins, as it provides 1g of these for every fluid ounce of drink; the protein found in milk is considered to be of very high quality as it is highly digestible and a good source of amino acids.
In addition to proteins, milk offers the following vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin B-12: the only rich sources of Vitamin B-12 are of animal origins and it is essential to the human body as it assists with the regular function of nerve cells and it supports the formation of red blood cells.
- Calcium: This is famously known for helping with bone and teeth health, but while milk is not the only source of calcium, it provides it in a form that is very easy to absorb.
- Vitamin B-2: also known as riboflavin, is one of the eight essential vitamins for the body. It has a crucial role in the breaking down of food, absorption of other nutrients, and tissue maintenance.
- Phosphorous: it is a mineral that, like calcium, is essential for the formation of bones and teeth.
- Vitamin D: this is found in fortified milk. Some countries recommend or even mandate, that this vitamin is added to milk. Vitamin D is important, yet hard to get, as the body only produces it when exposed to sunlight; it is valuable as it assists with the absorption of other nutrients, such as calcium, which milk is rich in.
What to look for in a substitute for milk?
It is important to read the label of foods, especially when they are created to substitute something else; when choosing your new milk alternative, ensure you read more than just the calories, but check the following as well:
- Proteins: as milk is a great source of proteins, find milk that offers at least 5g+ of proteins per portion.
- Sugar: ensure you are selecting the unsweetened or 0g of added sugar option; many substitutes add a lot of sugars to make the flavor more palatable, but this reduces the alternative to a very unhealthy one.
- Sodium: just like sugar is added, sodium is as well. Sodium is the salt found in food and it is globally one of the most over-consumed additives, which is extremely unhealthy.
- Ingredients: make sure the list of ingredients is as short as possible. Most of the time you will find the main ingredient (i.e.: the main name of the plant), water, and some stabilizers. The longer the list, the further from it you should stay. (unless it is a fortified milk — read that part as well)
- Saturated fat: High quantities of saturated fat are found especially in coconut milk alternatives for milk and the ones that are fortified with proteins.
- Fortification: try and select options that have added Vitamin D and Calcium; these two are very important for bone and teeth health and are absorbed better when consumed together.
- Other ingredients: you may have concerns, intolerances, or allergies to other ingredients, so ensure you read the full list of ingredients on the package.
What are the most popular milk alternatives?
Soy milk is the most famous and used alternative to dairy milk; often hailed as the best milk alternative for its similarities with cow’s milk this is what you need to know about it:
- Nutrition: soy milk has about the same amount of protein as dairy milk while having about half the calories, fats, and carbohydrates. It is also a source of fiber, antioxidants, and polyunsaturated fats.
- Taste: it is the most similar in taste to cow’s milk when used in savory dishes. It is one of the best milk alternatives for coffee and tea as well.
- Amino acids: it is one of the very few plant-based alternatives that are a source of amino acids, which are essential to the human body, as it does not naturally produce them.
- Production: it is made by soaking and blending the soybeans, the extra pulp is strained and then on some occasions, thickeners and oils are added to increase consistency and better taste.
- Isoflavones: this is a controversial topic, as consuming large amounts of this can affect the function of hormones; studies however have shown that consuming moderate amounts of it does not affect the body.
Soy milk is a keto milk alternative.
Almond milk is a very popular choice for a milk alternative, as it is available in most supermarkets and it tastes very nice.
- Nutrition: most almond milk options are very low in proteins (about 1g per portion), therefore if using it as a permanent substitute it is important to integrate the intake with other sources, such as nut butter.
- Production: almond milk is made with either whole almond or almond butter, which are blended with water. Other products may be added to improve consistency and taste.
- Calories: it is one of the lowest-calorie options available and it is an excellent choice when one is trying to reduce calorie intake.
- Nutrients: while almond milk is a great source of Vitamin E (an antioxidant that helps fight free radicals), the other nutrients it offers are much less compared to when consuming the whole almond.
- It is the most used keto alternative as it is very low in carbohydrates and quite inexpensive at the same time.
~~ Looking for more almond inspired recipes? Pear and Almond Crumble with Cardamom Infused Custard
Oat milk is one of the trendiest options on the market, mainly because of its taste and versatility. It is one of the best milk alternatives for coffee, tea, cereals, and smoothies because of its fluffiness and light flavor.
Uses: it can be used in sweet dishes, such as cereals, tea, and coffee, but also savory ones. It can be used while cooking just like cow’s milk.
- Nutrition: oat milk has almost double the carbohydrates of cow’s milk while offering half the proteins and fat for about the same number of calories.
- Given its high amount of carbohydrates, oat milk is not recommended for use in a keto diet.
- How to make oat milk: oat milk is made by using a blend of different oats and water, then its texture and flavor are improved with additives, such as gums, oil, and salt.
- Benefits: oat milk is a great source of fiber and beta-glucan, which may help lower cholesterol and the level of sugar in the blood.
Coconut milk is undoubtedly the most exotic tasting dairy-free, vegan milk and one with the lowest calories.
How to make coconut milk: coconut milk is made of water and coconut cream (the flesh of the brown coconut); it is normally sold in a milk carton and it is a lighter, less thick version of the coconut milk sold in tins which are usually used in cooking.
- Nutrition: coconut milk is low in calories compared to cow’s milk, with fewer proteins and carbohydrates, but it has a very high amount of saturated fat. While saturated fat has a very low recommended daily dosage, as it makes one feel fuller soon, should this milk be used in moderation it may assist in reducing calorie intake.
- As coconut milk is low in carbohydrates it is suitable for a keto diet.
- Coconut milk has no proteins, so should one use this drink only for a dairy-free substitute, it is recommended that proteins are taken from other sources, such as nuts and legumes.
- This dairy-free milk alternative is great in both sweet food (like desserts, pies, puddings, cereals, etc.) and drinks (tea, coffee, cocktails, mocktail, etc.), as well as savory.
~~ Love oat and coconut? Try these breakfast cookies!
Rice milk is a great vegan alternative for those looking for mild flavors and the ones suffering from nuts allergies.
- How to make rice milk: white or brown rice is blended with water, but as its flavor is very mild and the consistency extremely liquid, most of the time thickeners and sweeteners are added to improve its taste and consistency, increasing also its calories.
- Rice milk is one of the milk substitutes with the highest amounts of carbohydrates, making it not suitable for a keto diet.
- Rice milk has a high glycemic index of 79–92, meaning it is absorbed quickly in the gut, raising very quickly the level of sugar in the blood; this may make rice milk not an ideal choice for those suffering from diabetes.
- Rice milk is a great alternative for those suffering from allergies or intolerances to dairy, nuts, soy, or gluten.
- Most people are fine consuming rice milk as part of a balanced diet, however many studies have shown that those already consuming a lot of rice in their diet could benefit from using a variety of milk substitutes to diversify their diet.
Other milk substitutes
Many different substitutes are new, up and coming and there certainly is something to satisfy everyone; here’s a short list of the most popular ones:
- Pea Milk: it is made from water and pea protein isolate, as well as other oils and gums, to better its taste and consistency. This milk is as creamy as soy milk and a good quality one provides a great number of proteins.
- Cashew Milk: it is made from a blend of full cashews or cashew butter and water. This dairy-free substitute is an excellent choice for thickening smoothies, to add to coffees, and to add to desserts, as it is sweet, creamy, with a slight nut flavor.
- Peanut Milk: peanut milk is an excellent legume-based milk alternative, as it is good for the planet as well as us. While this dairy-free option is hard to purchase ready-made in shops, there are multiple recipes available online that show how to make your own.
- Flax Milk: most store-bought flax milk options are made like pea milk with the addition of flaxseed oil. Flax seeds are known for supporting immunity and may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Macadamia Milk: this is a relatively new addition to the market and can be mainly found in Australia. It is made for up to 97% of water and it has a nutty flavor, rich and creamy. It is high in monosaturated fats and low in calories and carbohydrates.
- Hemp Milk: it is made from the seeds of the hemp plant, which contain only traces of THC. It has a very watery texture and it is quite sweet and nutty to taste. While being low in calories and carbohydrates, because of how it is made and its fortifications, it is a good source of good quality proteins and essential fatty acids.
- Other milk substitutes available in the market are hazelnut, walnut, banana, pecan, pistachio, quinoa.
While for some cow milk is considered essential and a staple, for many others there is no choice but to reduce or eliminate its consumption for dietary, ethical, or other reasons.
Fortunately, there are multiple options available (and many more still up and coming) in the market, therefore it is not hard to find something suitable for everyone’s needs.
When selecting a milk alternative it is important to have a look at the ingredients that are added, as sometimes the additives may make the choice not something recommended for large consumption.
There are however choices available for everyone’s dietary needs, ethical reasons, and pockets.
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