I’m sorry but dairy is damn delicious. Every time I am pregnant (currently 7 months pregnant with Baby Binns #3), I crave dairy like it’s nobody’s business. For someone who NEVER drinks cow’s milk, RARELY eats dairy-based yogurts (just sheep and kefir), and SOMETIMES samples cheese and sips wine with my Italian family (oh and the odd ice cream too), I am a changed person when there’s a babe in this belly.
I could eat high-fat, creamy dairy all day long. I could but I don’t for a number of reasons which we will save for another post.
So instead I trick myself, and this dairy-loving baby, with dairy-free milk alternatives. Thankfully there are a few to go around! The question is, which dairy-free milk is the best for us? Let’s take a peek!
6 Dairy-Free Milk Alternatives to Cow’s Milk
When reviewing a client’s food journal I get goosebumps every time I see “soy milk” jotted down with their cereal, or in their smoothies, or…anywhere else. From a macronutrient perspective, soy milk is the closest to cow’s milk; however it has its disadvantages. Chris Kresser talks about the dangers of soy in detail here, but at a glance here’s what you should know:
- Most soy is genetically modified.
- It is one of the most heavily sprayed crops with high levels of pesticides
- The phytoestrogens in soy may cause hormonal changes. One study illustrates that some phytoestrogens have been linked to problematic stimulation of the reproductive systems of animals and humans.
- It is a common allergen, so if choosing an alternate milk due to allergy concerns, soy is not a good idea (about half of the children who react to cow’s milk also react to soy).
- Phytates (enzyme inhibitors) found in some soy protein and other nuts/legumes, can interfere with the absorption of essential minerals including zinc and iron.
Another option would be coconut milk because of the healthy fats it contains. And it’s creamy deliciousness! However, I’m a little weary about using the canned variety due to the use of BPA in the lining of most canned products. With a high-fat product like coconut milk, the fat leaches toxins into the milk and no one wants that!
- Titanium Dioxide is linked to Crohn’s Disease.
- It has been shown to cause inflammation in the small intestine…hello leaky gut!. (source).
- Titanium dioxide is classified as “possibly carcinogenic” to humans, (source).
- Titanium Dioxide was approved for food use in 1969 based on weak evidence. Current research shows it accumulates in organs and cause physiological changes, (source).
Coconut milk in the carton is not a great option either because it is watered down, diluting the nutrients per serving. The best alternative is to make your own with a homemade coconut milk recipe like this.
Rice milk has become as ubiquitous as almond milk these days. It’s inexpensive, dairy-free and has a decent taste. Some choose to make a similar non-dairy drink with rice milk which I recommend avoiding for two main reasons.
- Rice contains arsenic. The FDA is currently studying the health effects from consuming rice products over the long-term.
- Rice is heavy on carbohydrates with too little fat and protein for us. While adults can supplement our diet with these missing macronutrients, our little ones (especially the picky eaters in our home) are limited in their options. So choosing a quality milk source becomes more important.
There’s also an option to make milk from various grains, with oat milk being the most common. The benefit of oat milk is the fiber it contains and that it’s more calorically dense than other milks; however oats offer very little fat.
Almond milk is another popular choice for parents, but with the nut allergy epidemic and nut ban in some schools, it can be limiting. Nutritionally, almond milk lacks the fat that our little ones require (the brain made up of 60% fat and are growing at rapid rates in the early years). Also, nut milks in general have insufficient protein and are deficient in Vitamin D/B12. While some brands fortify their packaged milk with vitamins/minerals they may not be the best or most absorbable versions. Making your own almond milk and supplementing with Vitamin D, etc yourself is a better option.
Also from an environmental perspective, almonds require a ton of water which is a dwindling resource (and a sacred one for those in California).
California’s drought-stricken Central Valley churns out 80 percent of the globe’s almonds, and since each nut takes a gallon of water to produce, they account for close to 10 percent of the state’s annual agricultural water use—or more than what the entire population of Los Angeles and San Francisco use in a year. - Source
Another non-dairy alternative that has been in the spotlight in recent years is sesame milk. Sesame seeds contain several nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Sesame seeds contain 88 mg of calcium in just one tablespoon (the DRI for adults is 1000 mg of calcium and toddlers need 700 mg). Hence they are one of the richest seed sources of calcium.
Even though sesame seeds have all these amazing minerals, they also contain anti-nutrients (oxalic acid) that bind and block the minerals from getting absorbed sufficiently. - Source While we want to ensure our little ones are absorbing all the benefits of they are taking in, we face this challenge with many foods. So the best thing to do is include variety and switch things up.
I’ve yet to see a packaged brand of sesame milk, but you can easily make your own (soaking to help release those anti-nutrients and improve absorption). Try this sesame milk recipe.
BONUS: Hemp Milk
How could I forget about my trusty hemp milk. It was the primary source of liquid nutrition for my eldest daughter. Especially during the days of her extreme picky eating, and when she preferred to drink her meals. Thankfully she loved my nutrient-dense hemp milk formula. And I felt better about the fact that this “milk” was a primary source of nutrition.
What do I have a deeper love for hemp milk? Well, it contains all 10 essential amino acids, making it one of the best sources of protein for vegetarians (and picky eaters). Hemp is also a great source of fat (essential for our brain, skin, hair, nails, etc) with the proper ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids. You can read more about why I prefer hemp milk in this post.
However, it’s worth noting that hemp milk comes with its cons as well. Specially that it is lacking in nutrients like Vitamin D, A and calcium.
As we can see, no ‘milk’ is an ideal option. Yet all can be rounded out by adding the missing nutrients, preferably through food and quality supplementation. It comes down to weighing the benefits of consuming dairy (getting Vitamin A, D, B12) with the downsides of dairy (blocking iron absorption, intolerances, increased acidity, inflammation, etc). The good news is that we have dairy-free milk options that are really good!
Try them in your smoothie, coffee, cereal, or straight up. Let me know how it goes below, or if you have any other dairy-free faves I didn’t cover in this post. Mmm…cashew milk (will have to add that one!).