6 Non-Dairy Milk Alternatives

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by: Lindsay Hutton
Like most food allergies, a milk allergy is a serious health issue, and is different than simply being lactose intolerant. According to the National Institutes of Health, lactose intolerance is a digestive system disorder, while a milk allergy is a potentially life-threatening reaction by the body's immune system to one or more milk proteins, even in small amounts. If your child has a milk allergy, it can be tough to find an alternative that meets his dietary needs. What dairy alternatives can you bake with? Which taste best on their own? Do they have the same nutrients as animal milk? Read on to find out which non-dairy milk options are available, and how each one stacks up nutritionally and taste-wise, so you can find the best option for your family. For more information on milk substitutes, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Coconut and coconut milk
Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is made by soaking coconut flesh in hot water, and letting the cream rise to the top, where it is skimmed off. The remaining liquid is squeezed through a cheesecloth, and the extracted liquid is coconut milk. Many refrigerated and shelf-stable brands of coconut milk have added sugar and guar gum (a food thickener and stabilizer), so make sure to read the label if those are additives you are looking to avoid.

Coconut milk is gluten-, soy-, nut-, and cholesterol-free, low in carbohydrates, and is a good source of vitamins D and B12. It contains the same amount of saturated fat as whole cow's milk. However, it is not a good source of calcium or protein.

Coconut milk is creamy and sweet with a noticeable coconut flavor when had on its own. It is a good substitute for milk in savory dishes, desserts, and smoothies.

Glass of almond milk and almonds
Almond Milk
Almond milk is made from ground almonds and water, and comes in a variety of flavors, including unsweetened, vanilla, and chocolate. It has fewer calories than skim milk, is a good source of potassium, and many brands come fortified with calcium. However, almond milk is not a good source of protein — a cup only contains 1 gram.

It can be matched cup for cup to cow's milk in recipes. Although it can be used in savory dishes, it works best for baking. The taste of almond milk is quite different from cow's milk, so it might take some getting used to when consumed on its own. It can also be used on cereal and in smoothies.

Bowl of brown rice in white bowl
Rice Milk
Rice milk is made from brown rice and water, and is the most hypoallergenic of all the milk substitutes. It is low in fat, and a good source of heart healthy nutrients like iron, magnesium, and vitamin B6, and, when fortified, calcium and Vitamin D. Rice milk is not a good source of protein, however, and since it is made from a starch, can be high in sugar.

Rice milk is not a good alternative to cow's milk when baking or cooking, since its watery texture usually needs something to bind it together.

Bowl of hemp seeds on wooden table
Hemp Milk
Hemp milk is made from hemp seeds and water, and sweetened with brown rice syrup. The grainy, nutty flavor is much different from cow's milk, but can still be appealing when consumed on its own. Hemp milk is soy-, gluten-, and nut-free, and is a good source of Vitamin D, and omega-free fatty acids. The protein and calcium content can vary by brand, so read the label to make sure it contains the amount you are looking for.

Hemp milk can be used as a dairy substitute when baking or cooking, especially in grainy recipes like muffins and breads.

Glass of soy milk and soy beans
Soy Milk
Soy milk is made from water and soybeans, and is a good source of protein, fiber, and calcium. Nutritionally, it is the best replacement for cow's milk, and can generally be matched cup for cup in cooking and baking recipes. However, the "beany" aftertaste can be overwhelming to some people when consumed on its own.

Since soy beans are one of the most genetically modified foods on the market, look for organic and non-gmo labeled brands. Soy milk, especially flavored varieties, can also be high in sugar, so always read the label to determine the sugar content in a particular brand. Additionally, soy can trigger allergies, so avoid this product if anyone in your family has a known sensitivity.

Bowl of oats on blue tablecloth
Oat Milk
Oat milk is made with oat groats (hulled grains broken in fragments) and water. Its mild, slightly sweet, oat-y taste makes it a good substitute for low-fat or skim milk. It contains more calcium than a serving of cow's milk, and is a good source of protein and iron, and comes fortified with vitamin D. It is lactose- and cholesterol-free and low in fat.

Some varieties may contain soy, so make sure to read the label if you or someone in your family has a soy allergy. Also, it is not recommended for people with gluten allergies.