Dairy Free Milks - which ones are best?
You may be lactose intolerant, vegan, paleo, or just dairy free for various reasons. You might be able to handle some hard cheeses now and then, and some yoghurt, but rich, creamy food and milk is quite the disaster. Not ever eating baked goods, smoothies, custards, and milk-based products again is simply out of the question - so which milk alternative should you choose?
There is an abundance of milk alternatives in the supermarket shelves which is fantastic to see. Unfortunately though, it can also be a bit of a minefield!
Some things to keep in mind
If you take dairy out of your diet - you take a really easy source of calcium out, as well as protein, Vitamin A, D, and B2. Protein is super easy to get back in, so is B2 (riboflavin) when you eat meat, seafood, eggs, nuts and greens. Vitamin A and D are the trickier ones. Vitamin A you get from beef liver, orange/red fruits and vegetables, and oily fish. Vitamin D - oily fish, beef liver, egg yolks and sunshine are your choices. If you can find a milk that's fortified with calcium, and get outside for around 10 minutes a day with some skin exposed (without sunscreen) its going to benefit your long-term health.
Comparing your options
I had nutrition student Doralise Halepis compare the key nutrition benefits and pitfalls of the most common milks and milk alternatives on the shelves (per 250ml serve). Here's how they stack up.
Cows, full fat.
Description: Full fat cow’s milk, is milk in its original form. During manufacture any possible pathogens are removed before it is fit for consumption.
Benefits: Great source of protein, fat, calcium and many other vitamins and minerals. As it is very nutrient dense, it is great as a snack and offers a low GI content, to keep you satisfied until your next meal.
Fats: 8.8g (6.3g from saturated)
Cows, light (2%)
Description: Essentially, regular cows milk with part of the fat content removed, it still offers a high amount of protein, calcium and other important nutrients.
Benefits: For those of you looking to reduce the amount of fat in your diet, this is an excellent alternative to regular cows milk.
Fats: 5g (3.5g from saturated)
Description: Goat milk has a very similar makeup to cows milk. Although it does carry slightly less nutrients than cows milk, it contains less lactose making it easier to digest for sensitive tummies.
Benefits: Those with allergies/intolerances to regular cow’s milk may be able to digest the goat variety a little better as it contains more properties similar to that of human milk.
Fats: 7.5g (4.5g)
Description: Lactose free milk is cow’s milk with the enzyme ‘lactase’ added to it. This enzyme breaks down the lactose and makes it easier to digest for lactose intolerant individuals.
Benefits: For lactose intolerant individuals this milk makes it simpler to receive essential nutrients such as calcium and protein, that are so easily available in cow’s milk.
Fats: 9g (5.8g from saturated)
Description: Almond milk is essentially made out of ground almonds and water. It is significantly lower in nutrients than other milks but is suitable for anyone to drink, minus those with a nut allergy.
Benefits: Although it may not keep you full for very long, almond milk is a great, low calorie addition to smoothies, hot chocolate and other home-made snacks. It is a great milk to have in combination with others as almonds do contain many essential nutrients for the body.
Fats: 2.8g (0.1 from saturated)
Description: Rice milk is great for those looking for a milder tasting plant based milk. Although it does contain a decent serve of calcium, it is very low in protein and is best consumed in conjunction with another milk variety.
Benefits: This milk is of benefit for those who cannot consume dairy, soy or nuts. It offers a great serve of calcium, something that the majority of plant based milks do not offer.
Fats: 3g (0.3g from saturated)
Description: Although oat milk is very high in carbohydrates, it is also a great source of calcium and protein for a plant based milk.
Benefits: Similar to rice milk, in terms of its suitability for those with many allergies/intolerances, oat milk also offers a great source of fibre.
Fats: 2.5g (0.5 from saturated)
Description: Hemp milk is a milk that is not as yet very readily available to purchase in Australia, but is easily homemade from hemp seeds. Although it is a moderately good source of protein, fats and carbohydrate, it contains virtually no calcium, making it not the best sole choice for milk.
Benefits: Hemp milk is a great source of omega 3, protein and is a great organic free milk to enjoy!
Fats: 7g (1g from saturated)
Description: Coconut milk is a delicious drink made from the juice of a coconut. It is especially great as a refreshment in summer or an addition to fruit smoothies. As it is low in protein and calcium it is best enjoyed as an occasional ‘treat’.
Benefits: Coconut milk is great for those following a paleo diet, its high fat content is will assist in satiation.
Fats: 30g (27.6g from saturated)
Description: Yet another plant based milk emerging on the market, quinoa milk is similar to rice milk, with a lower carbohydrate content. It also offers more protein than rice milk, but does not contain a significant calcium source.
Benefits: Quinoa milk is another available milk that is great for individual’s with allergies and intolerances.
Fats: 2g (0.3g from saturated)
Description: The original plant based milk to make its way onto shelves, soy milk is still the leading plant based milk consumed by Australians.
Benefits: Made from soybeans, it offers a complete source of protein and a significant amount of calcium. Although many varieties contain additives and other nasties, choosing an organic, additive free variety will be best for your health.
Fats: 8.8g (1g from saturated)
In Australia, we are very lucky to have access to such a wide variety of milks. Consuming a mix of animal and plant based milks is the best option to receive optimal nutrition. As many plant based milks do not contain a lot of calcium, there are some varieties that have been fortified. Check the label before purchase, as this is an easy way to work calcium into your diet. Unsweetened, additive free milks are the best choice to avoid hidden nasties. If you don't like the idea of store-brought milk, there are great recipes available online to make your own plant based milks and are well worth a look. That way you can ensure you know exactly what is in your milk and perhaps even save yourself a few dollars!