Nutrition Blog‎ > ‎

No Dairy for You-No Problem

posted Jun 16, 2017, 8:07 AM by Tracy Ducker, MS, RDN
Not everyone can or chooses to consume dairy foods, whether it is a milk protein allergy or lactose intolerance or you follow a vegan diet. But there are still many foods that are good nutritional substitutes, that can help keep your bones strong.

Let’s start with milk alternatives, and there are many.  It is important to note that even though these beverages are called ‘milk’ they are not milk, they are plant based beverages. There are beans/nuts, seeds, and grain based beverages. Bean/nut milks include soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk and coconut milk. Soy milk is probably the most notable and has been around for a very long time. Soymilk contains 6-10 grams of protein making it a great source; it also has omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. Most are fortified with calcium, riboflavin and vitamins A and D and B12, making it the closest nutritionally to cow’s milk. There are a variety of flavors and it comes sweetened and unsweetened.  Almond milk is made from ground almonds, water and sweetener. It isn’t as nutritionally sound as soymilk or cow’s milk as it lacks adequate protein, fatty acids, and B vitamins. It does contain almost 50% of the Daily Value (DV) of vitamin E and many varieties and brands fortify almond milk with calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients.  Coconut milk is another popular milk beverage. It is higher in calories and fat than most milk or milk alternatives, but also contains fiber and iron (which cow’s milk does not).

Seed and grain based milk products include Hemp milk from hemp seeds, oat milk, rice milk, flaxseed milk and even sunflower milk (though not common). Oat milk is made from oat groats, water and possibly other grains. It is low in calories, cholesterol and saturated fat and contains fiber, iron, vitamin E and folic acid. It is best to avoid oat milk if you have a gluten sensitivity.  Hemp milk is made from hulled hemp seeds, water and a sweetener and contains protein and omega-3 fatty acids but no calcium. It is not widely available but can be a good substitute for those with dairy, gluten, nut and soy allergies. Rice milk is also popular among individuals with multiple food allergies, however it lacks adequate protein, calcium and vitamin D. There is not a lot of research on flaxseed milk and sunflower milk, but they could also be an alternative for those with gluten, dairy, nut and soy allergies.

For other dairy foods, like cream cheese, regular cheese, and desserts, there are many soy based varieties that do taste good. However, many soy based cheese alternatives don’t have the same texture or meltability as animal based cheeses so may not work as well in cooking.

It is recommended to always look at the nutrition label and check for the amount of calcium, vitamins A and D, riboflavin and protein along with the sugar content. Cow’s milk has no added sugar (except for flavored varieties) and many of the milk alternatives have sweetened and unsweetened varieties. You can find more information on milk alternatives here.