The Healthiest Dairy Alternatives

Vegans, the lactose-intolerant, and people eating whole food, plant-based (WFPB) drive the market for dairy alternatives. However, many others are now changing their dietary habits and moving toward dairy alternatives because of taste preferences and their nutritional benefits.

Key takeaways:
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    Dairy alternatives are flooding the market, giving vegans, vegetarians, and lactose-intolerant people many more options.
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    Plant-based milk is healthier because it’s loaded with essential vitamins and minerals.
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    Alternative dairy products require much less water and other resources, making them more environmentally friendly.

Whatever the reason for the switch, dairy replacements are loaded with vitamins and add essential nutrients to diets.

What are dairy alternatives?

Dairy alternatives are plant-based milk products. People opt for plant-based milk for various reasons. Vegans do not consume animal-based foods, including dairy, and, thus, propel the plant-based milk market. Those who are lactose intolerant or have an inflammatory bowel disease also choose dairy alternatives to avoid GI issues.

Cow’s milk is a world staple used daily for coffee, cereal, cooking, and baking. Whole milk contains about 87% water, with the remaining 13% coming from protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. A glass of whole milk contains 149 calories, 8 g of protein, and 8 g of fat.

Despite the nutritional value of cow’s milk, plant-based milk is becoming a preferred option for its nutritional benefits and fewer allergic and GI reactions.

Benefits of plant-based milk

Dairy alternatives and plant-based milk have numerous benefits over dairy products, including:

Plant-based milk is lactose-free

Because plant-based milk is lactose-free, they are an excellent option for the lactose-intolerant. Lactose is a sugar in milk; the inability to digest it is referred to as lactose intolerance. It affects about two-thirds of the world’s population. Anytime lactose intolerant person consumes milk, they may experience digestive discomfort such as diarrhea, bloating, or cramping.

Plant-based milk is environment-friendly

The environmental footprint of animal agriculture is rather alarming, and dairy production contributes significantly. For example, the rearing of cows and goats that produce milk generates incredible amounts of methane, which warms the atmosphere far more than carbon dioxide.

Plant-based milk production leaves a smaller environmental footprint. Thus, it’s much more environmentally friendly.

Plant-based milk is healthier

Although cow’s milk is a great source of calcium and vitamin D, it also contains saturated fats, antibiotics, and hormones — which are unhealthy. On the other hand, plant-based milk consists of healthy dietary fat, antioxidants, and compounds like phytosterols and isoflavones.

What plant-based milk options exist?

There are a variety of plant-based milk options. Each is unique, with its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a look at some options available and their unique characteristics:

Soy milk

If you’re looking for a great all-around milk that provides calcium, manganese, and selenium, consider soy milk. The milk is derived from protein-rich soybeans. It is very nutritious, inexpensive, and widely available. A glass of plain soy milk contains 80 calories, 7 g of protein, and 0.5 g of saturated fats.

Soy milk is a good source of essential monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids and isoflavones, which are healthy and help prevent diseases like cancer and osteoporosis. In addition, most soy milk is fortified with vitamin B12 and vitamin D.

One drawback of plain soy milk is that people need time to get used to its flavor. However, most brands offer flavored varieties making them more palatable for people who don’t like the taste. Furthermore, some people have allergies to soy, so consumption may bring discomfort or may need to be avoided altogether.

Oat milk

Oat milk is another popular non-dairy milk option. It is often preferred over soy milk because it has a similar consistency to dairy milk; therefore, it is an excellent substitute for milk in coffee and other beverages. Additionally, it’s a great source of protein, calcium, iron, phosphorus, B vitamins, and vitamin D. The high fiber content of oats also makes it very attractive for health-conscious consumers because it is linked to lipid-lowering and anti-cancerous properties.

One disadvantage of oat milk is that it contains beta-glucans and starch, which in layperson’s terms, means it doesn’t heat well. When heating, the starch thickens the liquid and can turn the milk slimy — making it look off. Additionally, oat milk also has a high sugar content and may not be suitable for diabetics.

Almond milk

Almond milk is another very common plant-based milk. Although it doesn’t contain as much protein as cow’s milk or other dairy alternatives, it is rich in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. A glass of plain almond milk contains 60 calories, 1 g of protein, and 0 g of saturated fats. Almond milk is also a rich source of other nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, selenium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, and copper.

The one concern with almond milk is that cultivating almond trees produces a larger environmental footprint. One concern is that farmers require a lot of water to grow almonds. Also, just like soymilk, almonds can cause allergies.

Coconut milk

In East Asia, coconut milk is quite popular and used for beverages and cooking. It is not as readily available in other parts of the world as other plant-based milk, but it is a very attractive option for those keeping a low-carb diet. A glass of plain coconut milk contains 45 calories, 0 g of protein, and 3.5 g of saturated fats. It contains the saturated fat Lauric acid, which helps in boosting the immune system. Coconut milk is also an excellent source of fiber and is rich in vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and zinc.

Additionally, coconut milk is rich in vitamin E, which helps to fight aging. Coconut milk is not commonly associated with allergic reactions.

Other kinds of plant milk that are slowly gaining popularity include hazelnut, quinoa, rice, cashew, hemp, and tiger nut. These kinds of milk are also excellent alternatives to dairy products and contain many beneficial vitamins and minerals.

Irrespective of your reason for quitting dairy milk, there is a suitable non-dairy alternative for you. Plant-based milk is very nutritious and, thankfully, is becoming more readily available. You just need to pay attention to your nutritional needs and any food restrictions before picking the right milk for you and your household.


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