In earlier times, the only options available when buying milk were skimmed or full-fat. Today, however, we’re spoilt for choice, with both dairy and non-dairy options hoarding supermarket shelves. These non-dairy milks are good for everyone—the lactose intolerant, the diet-conscious, and those who oppose the treatment of cows reared for dairy.
“Non-dairy alternatives can make a huge difference in your digestion, skin and energy,” says Lula Brown, a private chef based in New York. Non-dairy milk options are mostly healthy, unless people have an allergy to nut, soy, or gluten. Experts advise watching out for added flavors that are high on sugar content.
Choosing the right cow’s milk alternative is all about satisfying your nutritional requirements. “Most dairy alternatives are highly processed and very difficult to digest, and do more harm than good. Look for pure options,” says Lula. For example, if looking at almond milk, the only ingredients used should be almonds and water. “Most alternatives are significantly lower in fat, so they will not give the same richness as cow’s milk,” she adds. We handpick nine dairy-free options for you.
1. Soy Milk
Made from whole soybeans, soy milk is the nutritionally adequate alternative to cow’s milk. It can replace breast milk for galactosaemic children and is safe for lactose intolerant people and anyone with a milk allergy. “It is high in protein and contains genistein—a phytonutrient that is protective against cancers. It is cholesterol-free and contains healthy unsaturated fats,” says Dr Mitchell Gaynor, assistant clinical professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.
Watch Out For: Its high sugar content, especially in flavored versions. Unflavored soy milk is bitter.
2. Coconut Milk
“Pure coconut milk is the best option for its essential fatty acids; crucial for brain health and very hydrating for the skin,” says Lula. This creamy drink has minimal starch content, is soy-free, gluten-free, cholesterol-free, nut-free and its fat content is considered to be ‘good fat’. “It contains lauric acid, a potent anti-inflammatory nutrient associated with lowering the risk of cancers,” says Dr Mitchell.
Watch Out For: Its significant saturated fat content (5gm per serving), which means it has to be consumed in moderation.
3. Hemp Milk
Hemp milk is good for those with soy and nut allergies. It’s cholesterol and lactose free, low in saturated fats, and a good source of protein. “It is packed with Omega-3 fats, which are heart healthy,” says Dr Mitchell. Hemp, however, is low in calcium and many may not like its thick, grainy texture.
Watch Out For: Its lack of adequate calcium and protein. Besides, hemp milk isn’t easily available. (Psst: You can buy it here, here and here.)
4. Almond Milk
Almond milk is good source of magnesium, selenium, unsaturated fat, protein, flavonoids and potassium, and has less sugar than soy milk. “It’s low in fat and calories and high in vitamins and minerals,” says Dr Mitchell.
Watch Out For: Its low protein content (just 1gm per cup), high sodium content, and high quantities of sugar (especially in flavored versions).
5. Rice Milk
“Rice milk is hypoallergenic and has high amounts of selenium and manganese,” says Dr Mitchell. It’s also naturally sweet. It is higher in carbohydrates than other milk alternatives. It is free of saturated fat and cholesterol, and contains calcium.
Watch Out For: The fact that it contains a thickener like xanthan gum, which is bad for gut health, since rice milk is watery. It is also not protein-rich and, much like rice, is very starchy.
6. Cashewnut Milk
Cashew milk is a great source of magnesium, calcium, has lower overall fat and calorie content, and contains a lot of vitamins and minerals.
Watch Out For: Its lack of protein properties.
7. Oat Milk
“It is cholesterol free, high in fiber and contains potent phytonutrients that are antioxidants that fight against cancer,” says Dr Mitchell. Oat milk has high levels of antioxidants, vitamin E and folic acid, and is good for those with multiple allergies.
Watch Out For: Its high sugar content and lack of adequate calcium and protein. It’s also not good for those with gluten allergies.
8. Potato Milk
Potato milk is also great for those with allergies to dairy, gluten and soy. It is cholesterol-free and a good source of vitamins and minerals. Watch Out For: Its lack of any protein.
9. Sunflower Seed Milk
This mildly nutty milk is high in vitamins and minerals and is a good source of essential fatty acids. Sunflower seeds are a good source of magnesium and selenium that help regulate the thyroid hormone.
Watch Out For: The fact that it contains no protein or calcium.