Saturday, March 31, 2012

Milk Alternatives

While the dairy industry would like to have us convinced that milk does a body good, there is plenty of compelling evidence to the contrary. Milk has only been in the human diet for a few centuries, and many Eastern cultures do not consume dairy at all. Tons of people suffer from lactose intolerance and dairy allergies, and milk and milk products are high in cholesterol. Additionally, if you are consuming non-organic dairy products, they are often ridden with hormones and antibiotics. Finally, corn-fed cows emit methane gases which hurt the ozone layer (grass-fed cows do not, but the vast majority of commercial dairy is from corn-fed cows.) I was a hard-core dairyist, with a particular weakness for cheese and cream-based desserts, until I finally decided it was hypocritical of me to shun meat yet support the dairy industry, in which cows are often treated badly and male calves are slaughtered for veal. Within a few days of eliminating dairy, I felt more energetic, my digestion improved, my sinuses cleared, and within a few weeks I dropped about 10 lbs.

If you're interested in reducing or eliminating your dairy but feel it would restrict your diet excessively, here are some non-dairy alternatives which are tasty, often as rich in calcium as milk, and lactose- and cholesterol-free. 

Soy Milk
Uses: can be substituted for dairy milk in pretty much any scenario, from coffee or cereal to cooking, baking, puddings, etc.
Varieties: endless, flavored, sweetened, unsweetened, zillions of brands. Ideally, go for an unsweetened organic variety which is GMO free.
Pros: easily obtainable (even grocery stores in low-income areas are starting to carry it and bodegas now commonly have it as an option for coffee, as does Starbucks), high in protein, calcium and vitamin D enriched, extremely versatile, very long shelf life even after opening. 
Cons: can be hard on the tummy if you drink it constantly, sometimes has a weird aftertaste.

Almond Milk
Uses: can be a dairy milk substitute in almost any scenario, although I've found it doesn't thicken well in puddings.
Varieties: there are a few brands, and most of them have the down side of using some sort of starch to thicken the milk, which can be unpleasant or clumpy in coffee. The brand I prefer is Almond Breeze, which has the fewest additives and comes in unsweetened, vanilla, and chocolate varieties.
Pros: versatile, light, very tasty, relatively easy to find, most varieties vitamin D and calcium enriched, also naturally high in vitamin E
Cons: not appropriate for those with nut allergies, low in protein

Rice Milk
Uses: ok for coffee, cereal, drinks. Not the best for cooking
Varieties: plain, vanilla, chocolate
Pros: light, easy on the tummy, relatively easy to find
Cons: I personally think rice milk is watery and has no taste. If you are allergic to nuts and soy, however, it is a viable option and is usually vitamin enriched.

Hazelnut Milk
Uses: absolutely delicious in coffee. In my opinion, too rich for anything else. Varieties: generally only plain, which is quite rich and tasty
Pros: yummy, high in several vitamins and minerals, calcium enriched
Cons: hard to find (you really have to go to a health food store for this one), not terribly versatile. I like to get it as an occasional treat for coffee use. Also somewhat higher in fat than the first three items.

Hemp Milk
Uses: I feel that hemp milk is good for smoothies and that's about it. It is WAY too rich for coffee or cereal in my opinion.
Varieties: plain, unsweetened, vanilla, chocolate
Pros: Hemp is a complete protein with all essential amino acids, although hemp milk has a lower protein content than soy milk. Also naturally rich in magnesium, potassium, iron, and a host of other vitamins including calcium and D.
Cons: It has a rather high fat content (still less than whole milk and no cholesterol), which in my opinion renders it way too rich for a beverage by itself. If you liked a thick, creamy whole milk though, this might be a good option for you, and it makes a terrific smoothie or milkshake. It can be found mostly in health food stores.


  1. Love Soymilk year round! Never use anything else at any time. For one thing (important to me) it has such a long life in the fridge. It goes on cereal, in coffee, in red mashed potatoes! Milk is definitely a no-no for artists in the theatre - the singing and speaking artists!

  2. Hi Jessica!
    Great article! I didn't eat dairy for so many years because of allergies. I eliminated most of them, and have some dairy now--organic, grass fed, humanely raised that is. I think it's good to change up what we eat even if we don't have allergies, so nowadays I mix it up. After a recent tea instead of coffee switch up, my fave creamer for tea is plain almond milk.
    I had been using light coconut milk in my coffee (cans from Trader Joe's) before that, but the coconut flavor is little strong for tea, except chais. Box coconut milk tends to have crap in it, like thickeners. Coconut milk is also good in smoothies. Good fats for the body in moderation.
    Another great thing about almond and hemp milks is that you can make your own by blending them with water in the blender. In case of hemp milk this is much more delicious, fresh and much less expensive. If you've got unpasteurized raw almonds, they can be soaked in spring water 8 hrs, then blended with water in blender, strained if desired, and it's a nutrition powerhouse. Both hemp seeds and almonds should be raw to do this.
    Personally, I avoid soy now. There's lots of new research out about it. I'm not so sure it's as healthy for us as we once thought. Then again, I think everyone is different and needs to find what works for them.
    Keep on dancin'!!