Navigating milk alternatives

Lactose intolerance and dairy are topics I could go on and on about. But I won’t. I’ll try to keep it short and just say that most adult humans experience difficulty digesting dairy – whether they realize it or not. When we are infants, our bodies produce lactase, the enzyme necessary to digest lactose (the sugar found in milk). As we age, our body stops producing this enzyme and thus we develop lactose intolerance and experience bloating, gas, and diarrhea after we consume dairy products. Many people are not aware that dairy products have this effect on them until they cut them out of their diet for a few weeks and realize how much better they feel.

There are many other reasons why I feel so strongly about eliminating or reducing dairy in your diet but I won’t go into that right now. I will say that when it comes to milk for your cereal or coffee or even baking, there are a ton of great, healthy alternatives to cow’s milk on the market today. So, I thought I would put a guide together on what the different “milks” are made out of and the different health benefits of each.

Soy Milk: Made from soybeans that have been soaked and then ground with water. Soy milk is creamy and most people enjoy the taste and texture. It is a good source of protein and calcium.

Almond Milk: My personal favorite, this milk is made by soaking almonds then grinding and mixing them with water. Though the texture is somewhat thin, the taste is pleasant and I enjoy it in my coffee every morning. Almond milk is not a good source of protein but it does have calcium, vitamins A and E, and magnesium.


Hemp Milk: Many people give me a funny look when I mention any product derived from hemp but it is actually a nutritional powerhouse! Hemp milk is made from ground hemp seeds and it has a rich, creamy texture and a nutty flavor. It doesn’t have much protein but it is a good source of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids (good fats!). As with many of these products, hemp milk is usually fortified with calcium and vitamin D.


Rice milk: Made from ground rice, it has a fairly thin consistency and it is low in fat and calories. Rice milk does not have much protein and is not a natural source of vitamins, although it is usually enriched with vitamins.

Coconut Milk: Made from a combination of ground coconut meat and natural coconut juices; coconut milk has a rich and creamy texture. It does contain some protein but it is higher in saturated fat and calories than other milks. This used to be only used for pina coladas but with the So Delicious brand putting it on the market, the coconut is becoming quite popular these days.


Flax Milk: I just saw this recently in Whole Foods but have yet to try it. I imagine the nutritional profile is pretty good given how healthy flax seeds are but I am not sure how tasty this would be as a milk. The website touts that it contains omega 3’s and as much calcium as dairy milk, with a “satisfying taste”.

I would caution that many of these non-dairy milks come in different flavors – plain, vanilla, even chocolate and will come sweetened or unsweetened – tread carefully because the vanilla sweetened version of almond milk can have 90 calories a serving while the plain unsweetened version only 40. Obviously there is a taste difference but those calories do add up.


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Filed under Guides, Nutrition Tips

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