Dairy sensitivity no longer means forgoing a frosty glass of “milk” with your chocolate chip cookies or morning cereal. Today markets offer an array of dairy milk alternatives for people with casein protein sensitivities or lactose intolerance or those who avoid milk because of its high saturated fat content or propensity to contain antibiotics. These alternatives to regular cow’s milk make it possible for you to enjoy milk again, albeit in a nontraditional way. Let’s run down some healthy non-dairy options to try.
Although standard cow’s milk has 8 grams of protein per cup, soy milk gives it a run for its money, coming in at 6 grams. Soy milk comes from soy beans and water, making it an excellent substitute for people who cannot tolerate dairy milk. Slightly thicker than traditional milk, soy milk has a rich flavor that’s ideal for use in smoothies, coffee and recipes. Although the debate on the pros and cons of soy milk continues to evolve, it is the lowest in saturated fat of all the non-dairy options available.
Almond milk is made using water and ground almonds, but it tastes remarkably close to dairy milk. It goes well in breakfast cereal or when made into a steaming mug of cocoa. In many ways, almond milk is healthier for you than even skim milk; almond milk has fewer calories than skim milk, and manufacturers enhance it with calcium, so it has more of this vital mineral than traditional cow’s milk.
However, it comes in on the low end when comparing protein, containing just 1 gram per 1-cup serving. Some brands are overcoming this shortfall by adding things like rice or pea protein to their almond milk products, bringing its protein content up to 5 grams. As a bonus, almond milk also gives you a boost of vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, manganese, iron, fiber and zinc.
Coconut milk has fewer calories than most other milks, but also has more fat and less calcium and protein. Because it comes from the meat of freshly grated coconuts, coconut milk has an unmistakable coconut flavor, although some brands offer the product as a blend with other types of non-dairy milk, so the taste is not as potent. This taste generally appeals to people who enjoy cream or whole milk.
For people with soy or nut allergies in addition to lactose intolerance, rice milk is a good choice. Although rice milk is waterier than other non-dairy alternatives, it is a good option for use in recipes that call for milk. Most people find the taste fairly bland but don’t mind rice milk as a fill-in for use in gravies, mashed vegetables and other dishes. Although rice milk contains only 1 gram of protein per serving, some enriched rice milk products come with added vitamin D and calcium to make them more appealing to health-conscious consumers.
Because manufacturing processes and ingredients vary from brand to brand, always check the nutrition facts on your non-dairy milk to ensure its meets your standards, particularly when it comes to calcium and protein. Also note the sugar content, as many flavored varieties may contain more sugar than you are comfortable with consuming.