There's a seemly endless amount of dairy free replacements, from soy to nut milk. Which one is best for you? Which tastes the best? How do you know if you can have it? Today I'm going to cover everything you need to know about milk replacements.
All my recipes are dairy free and I commonly encourage my clients to try going off of dairy if they're concerned about having a food sensitivity, dealing with IBS or eczema. Personally, I've been off of dairy for about 2 years. If you have celiac disease like me it's common to have problems digesting dairy. (Especially at the beginning when you're first diagnosed).
Reasons to go dairy free
Milk Allergy Vs. Lactose Intolerance Vs. Dairy Sensitivity
Milk allergy is a food allergy, which is an overreaction of the immune system to a specific food protein. When the food protein is ingested, it can trigger an allergic reaction that may include a range of symptoms from mild symptoms (rashes, hives, itching, swelling, etc.) to severe symptoms (trouble breathing, wheezing, loss of consciousness, etc.). Reactions to milk can be severe and life-threatening.
Side note- When you have a dairy allergy there's a very high chance that you won't be able to have goat, buffalo or sheep milk because of the similar protein structure.
75 percent of the world's population, including 25 percent of those in North America are lactose intolerant. People who are lactose intolerant are missing the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products.
Sensitivities are a bit more complicated. The immune system isn't triggered like it is with a food allergy and the body isn't missing a specific enzyme like an intolerance. The body itself is still reacting negatively. Even though there isn't a lot of research behind it, some who are neither lactose intolerant nor have a milk allergy feel better without dairy in their diet.
Two things to watch out for when buying plant based milks alternatives:
1. Lots of added sugar. To make the milk alternatives taste better many companies will add lots of sugar so watch out for sugar content.
2. Additives. When thickeners and additives are added in they give the milk that creamy texture. Making your own or avoiding them can make the milks healthier. Additives like carrageenan have been linked to inflammation and immune suppression. Additives like xanthan gum have been linked to digestive upset because of its laxative like effect.
Dairy Free Milks
Nut milks include almond, cashew, hazelnut and macadamia. They're made by soaking the nuts in water and then grinding it up. Then it's strained and you have nut milk! If you're allergy to nuts this isn't the best choice obviously but what if you're not? How nutritious is it?
Eating whole nuts can provide you with many healthy benefits like healthy fats, protein and nutrients. So it's easy to assume that those benefits would transfer over to nut milks, but that's not always the case. It's typically a combination of the nut, water, sweetener, thickener such as carrageenan, and, often, fortified nutrients such as vitamins A, E, and D.
Almond milk: Doesn't contain much of anything nutrition wise unless it's fortified. It has barely any calories (only 30 a glass). It's low in protein which is a negative, because that's why many drink milk. It's got a light flavour and it one of the more popular milk alternatives.
Cashew Milk: The great thing about cashew milk is that it’s easy to make the homemade version. Because cashews naturally turn creamy when soaked overnight and blended with water, you don’t have to strain the pulp like you do when you make other varieties of homemade nut milk (just blend the recipe ingredients and drink!). That's a plus because it means you get the benefits of the whole nut and a serving of protein.
Soy milk is a bit controversial. Some studies have come out over the last decade showing high amounts of soy to be potentially dangerous because of its estrogen mimicking properties. The key here is high amounts of soy, low amounts of soy don't seem to be harmful. There is another negative, 90% of the soybeans produced are genetically modified in one way or another. Soy milk usually has sugar and additives, so it's not the best. Also with the controversial nature it's probably best to limit this milk in your diet in my opinion. If you're going to drink it make sure it's organic with no added sugar.
Taste: Has a light beany flavour. I have a severe soy allergy so I've never tried it but that seems to be the general consensus.
Coconut flesh (the white part) is grated and soaked in hot water. The coconut cream rises to the top and can be skimmed off. The remaining liquid is squeezed through a cheesecloth to extract a white liquid that is coconut milk. By repeating this process, the coconut milk becomes thinner.
While coconut milk does contain fat, it’s mostly medium chain saturated fatty acids (MCFAs).
MCFAs are rapidly metabolised into energy in the liver. It is thought that unlike other saturated fats, MCFAs are used up more quickly by the body and are less likely to be stored as fat. It's still a fat and should be consumed moderately.
Coconut milk contains many beneficial compounds, such as lauric acid, antimicrobial lipids and capric acid, which have antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties.
Taste: Light and creamy with a very light natural coconut flavour. Perfect for baking and smoothies.
Rice milk is very high in carbohydrates and very low in protein. It's not the best choice as it's usually quite high in sugar. Brown rice milk has B vitamins and some minerals. It's a allergy free choice, but has some downsides.
Taste: It's a bit gritty but has a light flavour.
Hemp milk contains calcium, potassium, iron, and zinc. Hemp seeds offer a well-balanced ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, and if you're trying to avoid soy, hemp milk is a great alternative. If you have milk allergies, lactose intolerance or soy allergies, hemp beverage can be a great alternative. It's not high in protein but makes for a good allergy free milk alternative.
Taste: It has a strong flavour that takes some getting used to, but a good texture.
As you can see there are pros and cons to many of the dairy free alternatives. Finding what works for your body and makes you feel your best is important. Remember to try and find milk alternatives that are organic, free from sugar and free from harmful additives. If you're concerned about calcium and vitamin D you can often find fortified milk alternatives.
What's your favourite milk alternative?