Cow’s Milk vs Dairy-Free Milk Alternatives

When I was a child, my drink of choice was cow’s milk. My day literally began and ended with a nice cold glass of white (or chocolate) milk. As I’ve gotten older I have started to notice that my stomach no longer tolerates it like it once did. I typically have a smoothie for breakfast which would leave me feeling bloated and gassy, so I switched to oat milk and noticed a difference in how I felt afterwards. The only issue with oat milk is I do not love the taste on its own so I wanted to find another dairy-free milk alternative that I could enjoy by the glass. My Grandma had the same digestive issues with cow’s milk as I now experience and I remember she always had soy milk at her house but I was never a big fan of the taste. When I started to search for other options I was blown away by how many are on the market now. So far I have tried lactose free, almond, oat, soy, and coconut and have varying opinions on all five. Some I only enjoy in smoothies, others I prefer to add to coffee, and all taste at least slightly different than cow’s milk. But, I am still determined to keep trying until I find the best fit for my eating habits and body.

From 2013 to 2018, research has shown that sales of non-dairy milk have risen 61%. Although many people consider milk alternatives to be a trend or lifestyle choice, lactose intolerance is actually very common. It is estimated that 65% of people have an intolerance to cow’s milk so they have to switch to a dairy-free alternative. Each type of dairy and non-dairy milk does have its advantages and disadvantages so it is important to consider your diet, health, and nutritional needs before choosing which milk is the best for you. It is also very common to find added sweeteners so be sure to check the label for ingredients like brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, or cane sugar to help cut back on increased carbohydrates. So, before you head to the grocery to buy one of the many dairy-free options available keep reading to find out which one may be the best choice for you.

Cow’s Milk

Whole – This nutrient rich drink comes from dairy cows and is beneficial to many health needs. Milk is full of important nutrients all bodies need such as calcium, potassium, vitamins B and D. It is also a great source of protein. These key nutrients may help reduce ones risk of developing osteoporosis and can even help you maintain a healthy weight.

2%, 1%, and Skim – Most people tend to switch to reduced fat or skim milk because it is lower in calories. However, because the removal of fat decreases the amount of key nutrients such as vitamins E and K it may not be the best option if you are drinking milk for its nutritional value.

Lactose Free – Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk products that some people have difficulty digesting. For people with lactose intolerance a glass of milk can cause digestive issues such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, or even vomiting. To break down the lactose found in milk manufacturers add lactase, an enzyme produced by people who do tolerate dairy. If you enjoy cow’s milk but are cutting it out of your diet because of lactose intolerance then lactose free milk may be a good option for you as it is similar to regular milk in taste and consistency.

Dairy-Free Milk Alternatives

Almond and Cashew – Both of these dairy-free options are made from ground almonds or cashews and filtered water. Almond milk, specifically, is a great source of vitamin E and unsweetened nut milks are typically lower in calories and free of saturated fat but they do lack the protein and calcium found in cow’s milk. Some brands do add supplements so that is something you can look for if you need to make sure you are getting all of your vitamins in your diet. You can also easily make your own nut milk at home.

Soy – Because it is made from plants (soybeans and filtered water), soy milk is naturally cholesterol free and low in saturated fat. Unlike nut milk, soy milk is a good source of protein and potassium. Actually, soy milk has just as much protein as cow’s milk and less calories than you will find in whole milk. When fortified it is also a good source of calcium. I find the taste of soy milk to be a bit bitter but nutritionally speaking it is a great alternative.

Rice – If you have allergies to milk, nuts or soy then you may want to try rice milk as it is the least likely to cause an allergic reaction. Rice milk is made from milled rice and water. It is also naturally sweeter than other milk alternatives but it does have the highest carbohydrates so it may not be the best option for those with diabetes.

Oat – Made by blending oats with water and yes it does taste similar to a bowl of oatmeal. Oat milk is naturally sweeter and contains soluble fiber which can help slow down digestion and keep you full longer. It is a great option for anyone with high cholesterol and also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels. Although not my favorite on its own, I do really enjoy using oat milk when I make smoothies.

Coconut – Made from coconut cream from grated mature coconut flesh and filtered water. Unless fortified, coconut milk does not naturally contain calcium, vitamin A or D and is higher in fat than other milk alternatives. However, the triglycerides found in coconuts are beneficial in raising HDL or good cholesterol levels. Coconut milk is also a safe alternative for people with nut allergies. I find that coconut milk is best used in smoothies or over cereal. If you like the flavor of coconut then you will probably enjoy the milk as well.

*Not to be confused with coconut milk which is used for cooking and comes in a can and is typically found in the baking isle at most grocery stores. Coconut milk that is best for drinking is commonly referred to as “coconut milk beverage” and can be found in the refrigerated section next to other cow’s milks and dairy-free milk alternatives.

Pea – Made from yellow peas and water. Unlike other plant-based milks, pea milk is high in protein which helps regulate your appetite. It is also lower in calories than cow’s milk and typically has a richer, creamier texture than other plant-based milks. Pea milk is a great alternative for anyone with dairy, soy or nut allergies as well.

Hemp – Let me begin by saying the hemp seeds used to make hemp milk do not contain cannabis, the psychoactive component of the plant. It is made from ground, soaked hemp seeds which are high in protein and both omega-3 and -6, therefore hemp milk contains higher amounts of nutrients than other plant bases milk alternatives.

Flax – Made from cold pressed flax oil mixed with filtered water. Flax milk contains omega-3 fatty acids and flax oil which have been shown to help prevent cancer, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. It also does not contain any cholesterol, saturated or trans fats and is low in calories. One downside of flax milk is its lack of protein so you would need to make sure you are substituting more protein into your diet with other foods.

If you’re interested in switching to a dairy-free milk alternative I suggest trying brands such as Silk and California Farms (my personal favorite). These brands seem to have the most variety among almond, soy, and oat milks and they even have coffee creamers. Another oat milk brand I have tried and enjoyed is Oatly and if you would like to try pea milk, Ripple is a popular brand. Next week fellow Tulhoma writers and I will be sharing our favorite recipes and tips and tricks so be sure to check back if you want to try them with us.

Have you made the switch to dairy-free milk because of dietary or personal reasons? If so, we would love for you to leave a comment below and share with us what your favorites are.

3 thoughts

  1. Very, very interesting, I will be sure to incorporate a variety of milks into my diet going forward. Maybe it will help with my terrible poop schedule (It’s an issue). Thanks so much

    Liked by 1 person

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