Alternatives to cow’s milk are becoming more and more widely consumed by the general population.
Many consumers want lactose-free dairy products or non-dairy milk products like coffee creamer, evaporated milk, powdered milk, and sour cream.
Lots of individuals are also interested in consuming non-dairy ice cream too since they love the sweet, creamy taste but don’t want the negative effects of dairy milk.
Read on to find out why that might be, what the best non-dairy milk alternatives are, and what you should look for in a milk substitute. Many of these alternatives milk substitutes are available in your local grocery store.
What effect does dairy have on the body?
Did you know that cow’s milk allergy is the most common allergy among infants and children? In fact, 2.2 to 3.5% of infants are allergic to dairy milk.
Lactose intolerance is widely common as well, affecting between 15 and 75% of adults. Some studies have even shown that 80% of people from African descent and 100% of people from Asian and American Indian descent are lactose intolerant.
However, dairy milk does not only affect those with a cow’s milk allergy or with lactose intolerance. It can also have negative effects on the bodies of people without these conditions.
A major protein component of dairy milk is beta-casein. Recent studies have shown that milk containing what’s called A1 beta-casein promoted intestinal inflammation and lead to gastrointestinal symptoms, including:
- Abdominal pain
- Increased stool frequency
- Stool consistency issues
The link between dairy and inflammation
Consumption of cow’s milk can also lead to higher concentrations of inflammation-related biomarkers, longer gastrointestinal transit times, and worse post-dairy digestive discomfort in those with and without lactose intolerance.
And cow’s milk doesn’t only affect the body but also the mind. Studies have demonstrated that drinking cow’s milk can lead to decreased cognitive processing speed and accuracy.
Cow’s milk consumption also stimulates the production of something called insulin-like growth factor 1, which can contribute to inflammation.
Many people have reduced their consumption of cow’s milk due to the presence of certain infectious pathogens that have been found in milk, such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157: H7. These pathogens have been associated with widespread disease outbreaks around the world.
Some studies have even shown a relation between higher risks of cancer and regular consumption of cow’s milk. The research has increasingly suggested dairy’s role in the development of chronic degenerative and non-communicable disorders.
Many of the health issues that people experience from cow’s milk are due to lactose, but they can also be from casein, a milk protein.
10 best milk substitutes
1) Soy milk
Soy milk is a unique dietary source of protein and fat and a dairy-free milk source. It contains 35 to 45% protein, and approximately 20% fat content. Soy milk is high-protein milk, containing several grams of protein, and is great for people following a vegetarian diet.
Soy milk is often consumed for its isoflavone content. It contains daidzein and genistein, which are isoflavones that potentially have anti-cancer properties.
The total caloric content of soy milk is similar to that of cow’s milk and therefore makes a great alternative if you are looking to replace cow’s milk with soy.
Soy milk contains monounsaturated fatty acids (called MUFAs for short). MUFAs help to decrease levels of low-density lipoprotein (also known as “bad cholesterol”). These MUFAs have beneficial health effects on preventing cardiovascular events and the formation of cancer. They also have potential benefits for women undergoing infertility treatments.
2) Coconut milk
Coconut milk is dairy-free milk made from the liquid extracted from the grated coconut white meat. It is widely cultivated in the tropical climates of Asia and South America. It is then exported as canned products to North America and Europe.
This milk is rich in several grams of saturated fats, although its caloric content is lower than cow’s milk. Coconut milk is often consumed not only for its health benefits but also for its delicious flavor and taste. It makes a good alternative ingredient to cow’s milk in baked goods, too.
Various researchers have found conclusive evidence that consuming coconut milk can increase levels of high-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol) and lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol). These benefits are due to the lauric acid found in coconut milk.
3) Almond milk
Nut milks such as almond milk are created by mixing water with powdered or pasted almonds. Generally, preparation involves soaking and grinding the almonds into water.
Once the solids are filtered out, this leaves a milky white liquid that we know as almond milk. This milk is often homogenized using high pressure and then pasteurized to increase the stability and shelf life of the product.
Research studies have found almond milk to be an even better alternative to cow’s milk than the generally followed substitutes for milk, such as soy-based meals and protein hydrolysate formula.
Almonds themselves have good levels of antioxidant vitamins. Fortunately, these high levels of vitamins are not only in the nuts but also in almond milk.
Almond milk is a vital source of protein, fiber, vitamin E, vitamin A, and manganese. In fact, a serving of almond milk fulfills up to 50% of the daily requirements for vitamin E and up to 30% of the requirements for vitamin A.
Almond milk has a high content of monounsaturated fatty acids, which are considered to be helpful in weight management. MUFAs also help in lowering low-density lipoproteins and therefore help to prevent the formation of cancer and the occurrence of cardiovascular events.
Almond milk beverage is relatively low in calories as compared to skim milk, and has a generally well-received taste, offering a nutty flavor.
4) Oat milk
Oat milk is an increasingly popular milk substitute for those giving up dairy yet still wanting that creamy texture.
One study looked at 24 healthy men and women. They found that consumption of oat milk helped to lower levels of total cholesterol in the blood by 4%.
It also helped to reduce low-density lipoprotein levels by 9%. Researchers found that it is the high content of beta-glucans in oat milk that are responsible for lowering total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein levels.
The researchers concluded that oat milk could be used as an alternative to other milk drinks by people who would benefit from reduced low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. Oat milk is best when it is derived from steel-cut oats.
5) Goat’s milk
Goat’s milk has been purported to have several health benefits. The European Food Safety Authority recently stated that proteins from goat’s milk could actually be suitable as a protein source for infant and follow-on formula.
Goat’s milk has more short-chain fatty acids, medium-chain fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids than cow’s milk do. Goat’s milk is also more easily digestible than cow’s milk is.
The probiotics found in goat’s milk can help to normalize the human microbiota found in the intestines. This comes along with a cascade of protective effects for the mucosa lining the inside of our intestines.
Researchers have stated that goat’s milk should be recommended as a dietary supplement in individuals with inflammatory and allergic conditions, including the elderly in particular.
6) Rice milk
Rice milk is one of the varieties of grain milk that can be prepared by mixing brown rice, which is usually milled first, with water. The processing of rice milk leads to the breakdown of carbohydrates into sugars. This gives rice milk its characteristic sweet taste, but without the addition of sugars. Rice milk is low-fat milk.
The calorie content in rice milk is similar to that of cow’s milk. Rice milk makes a good alternative in the case of patients with increasing allergy issues that are caused by soy and almonds.
7) Cashew milk
Cashew milk is a plant milk made the same way as almond (soaking, blending with water, and straining) and an impressive nutritional profile.
Cashews are tree nuts, which contain an array of phytochemicals, including carotenoids, phenolic acids, phytosterols, and polyphenolic compounds. Some of these polyphenolic compounds include:
The good news is that the phytochemicals found in tree nuts such as cashews are bioaccessible and bioavailable to humans.
The phytochemicals found in tree nuts have been associated with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative, antiviral, chemopreventive, and cholesterol-lowering actions.
All of these actions are known to affect the initiation and progression of several disease processes in the human body. It is also low in sugar, making it a preferable option for those with diabetes. However, protein in less than other alternatives, so cashew milk may not be the best option for people with increased protein requirements.
8) Hemp milk
Hemp seed milk is considered to be a superfood. It is a functional food that contains bioactive compounds, and amino acids such as leucine. Milk from hemp seeds can be effective in the prevention of metabolic syndrome and, therefore, the onset of cardiovascular diseases and type II diabetes.
9) Quinoa milk
Quinoa milk is rich in macronutrients and micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals. The proteins found in quinoa are of particularly high nutritional quality, due to the high content of essential amino acids.
Recent research has strongly suggested that nonessential nutrients found in quinoa, such as phytochemicals, may also have potential beneficial health effects.
Specifically, phytochemicals have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. They help to lower the risk of oxidative stress-related diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
10) Macadamia milk
Macadamia milk contains several grams of fat. It is a rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids, such as oleic acid and palmitoleic acid. It also contains polyphenol compounds.
These significantly lower markers of inflammation, thrombosis (blood clots), and oxidative stress in the body. This decreases the risk factors for coronary artery disease, even though there is the significant fat content in macadamia milk.
What should you look for in a milk substitute?
- Unsweetened: You will want to make sure that your milk substitute has no sugar added, as too much sugar in the diet can have harmful effects on health. If you are switching away from cow’s milk for your health, then do not replace this with sugar-laden milk alternatives, as you could be doing even worse things to your body in this case. Look for the word “unsweetened” on the label. Unsweetened almond milk and unsweetened soy milk are readily available.
- Vitamin D: There are a few things that cow’s milk has that many substitutes for milk do not, and these are namely calcium and vitamin D. Therefore; you will want to look for milk substitutes that are fortified with vitamin D and calcium.
- Protein: It is also important to be aware that if you are consuming certain milk substitutes (rice milk, for example), you may not be getting as much protein as you would from cow’s milk. In this case, it is important to ensure that you are getting protein elsewhere in the diet.
As you can see, there are several excellent alternatives to cow’s milk, each with their own additional benefits to your health. It is important to speak to a health care provider to ensure you are obtaining all the essential nutrients in your diet, so be sure to speak to your doctor, naturopath, or nutritionist about this if you are considering cutting back on cow’s milk in your diet.