In recent years, there has been an explosion of non-dairy products on the market as dairy intolerance has become increasingly prevalent. Today, dairy is considered one of the top 10 most allergenic foods making it a real problem some. The symptoms of dairy intolerance can vary widely from simple digestive issue to chronic bodily inflammation. It has been reported that 1 in 6 Canadians shows signs of dairy intolerance characterized by symptoms such as cramps, bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Now, before I go any further, I want to make something very clear. I am not anti-dairy, and I am not opposed to all dairy. I do consume dairy products once in a while; I put heavy cream in my coffee, I eat yogurt from time to time, and I certainly eat cheese. If I’m at the right party and you put a cheese plate in front of me, I will probably dive right in. However, I do try to limit my overall consumption. The reason? Not all foods are perfect for everyone, and I personally find if I consume too much dairy my digestion suffers. Plus, unfortunately, the commercial dairy we buy today in stores today is not the dairy our great-grandparents consumed when they lived on the farm. Be it animal lifestyle, animal feed, pasteurization, homogenization, processing or low-fat product, the ultra-processing of dairy milk has created more a of food-like product as opposed to a real whole food.
So with the increasing number of people becoming intolerant to dairy, and looking to add more plant-based options into their diet, there are now more choices than ever. From rice milk to coconut milk, the options are endless. So if you are looking for a dairy alternative, or simply want to mix up your options, here are some of my top suggestions.
1. Goat or Sheep Milk
If suspect you are intolerant to dairy, but not fully ready to kick it, this is where I suggest you start. Although technically considered dairy, sheep and goat’s milk have a very different molecular and protein structure from cow’s milk. Because the proteins found in sheep and goat’s milk are much smaller, some individuals who are intolerant to cow’s milk can easily digest these alternatives. Although more difficult to find, it is often sold at farm gates, farmers markets or certain health food stores, and are well worth trying if you are looking for a dairy alternative.
2. Almond Milk
The most common of the non-dairy milks, almond milk is widely available at grocery stores and health food stores. Although you can’t technically “milk an almond”, almond milk is made by soaking raw almonds to remove anti-nutrients, and blending them in water to create a milk. Almond milk has a creamy and velvety texture, with a slightly nutty taste, and it is ideal for coffee, smoothies, cereals or baking.
3. Cashew Milk
Almond milk was first on the scene, but other nut milks are now making headway. Cashew milk can now be found in grocery stores aisles and has a slightly richer taste and texture as compared to almond milk. Cashew milk can easily be substituted for almond milk in any recipe.
4. Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is the liquid that comes from the grated meat of a brown coconut, and should not be confused with coconut water. Coconut milk is a good source of healthy fats and trace minerals, and ultra delicious! Coconut milk can be purchased in a canned version, commonly used for cooking curries, soups or desserts, as it is thicker and creamier in texture. However it can also be found in a carton version that is thinner in consistency and is great for smoothies.
5. Rice Milk
Rice milk is the most hypoallergenic of all of the non-dairy milks and is a great alternative for those allergic to nuts. Of the non-dairy milks it has the lowest concentration of fat and one of the sweeter flavour profiles. It is more “watery” than other milk alternatives, but is ideal in smoothies, and can be substituted for nut milks in any recipe.
6. Hemp Milk
Made from hemp seeds, hemp milk has a nutty and slightly grassy taste. It is less popular among the other milks, but a good alternative if you are looking to add some variety to your milks. Each one cup serving contains 4 grams of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Nutritionally speaking, one thing needs to be clarified. Non-dairy alternatives are just that, alternatives. Dairy alternatives do no have the exact same nutrition profile (macronutrients, vitamins, minerals) as a dairy milk would, because they are a completely different type of food! Commercial non-dairy milks will add artificial calcium and vitamin D to help match the nutritional profile people are expecting from a milk, as well as additional stabilizers and preservatives. As with all foods the best option is always to make your own at home and when it comes to non-dairy milk, it’s so easy! Check out my simple and delicious recipe for Homemade Vanilla Almond Milk to help you make almond (or any nut) milk in your own kitchen.