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Dairy-Free Milk Alternatives

August 28, 2021
Dairy-Free Milk Alternatives

In this article:

  • Cow’s milk has calcium, vitamin D, and protein. 
  • Lactose intolerance, milk allergies, health concerns, and special diets are some reasons why some people avoid cow’s milk.
  • Dairy-free milk alternatives include soy, nut, coconut, hemp, rice, and oat milk. They have unique tastes and textures.
  • Lark can guide you in a healthy diet with a balance of nutrients.

Milk is a well-known source of protein and calcium. Experts traditionally recommend 2 to 3 servings of dairy products per day, such as in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. But what if you cannot have dairy products or do not like milk? 

Mayo Clinic says you can get enough calcium from non-dairy sources. There are many safe, delicious, and affordable dairy-free milk alternatives available. Just remember that they are not suitable for making infant formula.

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Reasons to Try Milk Alternatives


Why do people look for milk substitutes? These are some reasons.

  • Lactose intolerance: Lactose is a sugar in milk. Lactase is an enzyme in your body that digests lactose. If you are lactose intolerant, your lactase levels are low. Undigested lactose causes digestive symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, or gas. Lactose intolerance is common in adults.
  • Milk allergy: About 2 to 3% of very young children have a milk allergy, according to research in the European Journal of Pediatrics. The Food Institute says milk is one of the Big 8 allergens in our diets. Most outgrow milk allergies by adolescence or before. 
  • Special diets: Some people follow a vegan diet. They only eat plant-based foods and not foods produced by animals. Or people on a low-carb diet might avoid milk due to its sugar content.
  • Other health concerns: Some people worry about hormones or antibiotics in milk. Others fear increased risk of diabetes, cancer, obesity, or heart disease. Harvard School of Public Health says there is not a clear link.
  • Environmental reasons: Harvard Medical School says drinking more milk is a poor choice for sustainable living.

Milk Alternatives


Milk alternatives have varying amounts of calories, protein, and other nutrients. These are some tips for choosing a product.

  • Look for “unsweetened” flavors. “Original” and “chocolate” tend to have added sugars.
  • Taste can vary between brands even for the same type of milk. If you do not like one brand, try another.
  • You may need to check two places in the supermarket. Some brands are shelf-stable, and others are in the refrigerator section.
  • You may find that you like one type of alternative for drinking straight or adding to cereal, while you prefer another for adding to coffee.
  • Most milk alternatives are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. You might also want to check for vitamin B12 and vitamin E.
  • Many milk alternatives contain additives such as gums or other thickening agents.

Soy Milk

Soy milk may be the alternative that has been around the longest. It is the highest-protein milk alternative with 7 or more grams per cup. Because of its protein content soy milk is the best milk substitute to use in recipes. 

The protein in soy milk is a complete protein. That is the type of protein in animal-based products. Most plant-based products are incomplete. They are missing at least one essential amino acid.

Soy milk contains compounds called soy isoflavones. They can interact with estrogen receptors. But, research cited in Nutrients does not show a health risk.

Rice Milk

Rice milk includes rice and water. Rice rarely causes allergic reactions. It is a good choice for people who have allergies.

It is higher in calories than skim milk. It has 130 calories per cup. It is high in carbohydrates and low in protein and fat. It has a high glycemic index and can increase blood sugar quickly.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is made from the liquid, or milk, inside of coconuts. The kind you purchase for drinking is thin coconut milk. The kind in a can is thick coconut milk. It has 500 calories per cup! It is for cooking, not drinking straight.

Be sure you purchase coconut milk for drinking. It comes in a carton. It has 50 calories and almost no carbohydrates or protein. 

Almond, Cashew, and Other Nut Milks

Nut milks are made from soaking nuts in water and straining the pulp out. Unsweetened versions have 25 to 40 calories per cup. Almond milk may be most common, but cashew and macadamia are also available. They may come in original, vanilla, and chocolate varieties, with options for sweetened or unsweetened.

Unsweetened nut milks are lower in calories and carbohydrates than cow’s milk. They are good for drinking, adding to coffee or smoothies, or making oatmeal.

Hemp Milk

Hemp milk comes from hemp. This is the plant that produces marijuana. But hemp has almost none of the active compound in marijuana known as THC. It has fewer calories than skim milk. Each cup has about 60 calories.

Like soy milk, hemp milk contains complete protein. But it has only 2 to 3 grams of it. Hemp milk is low in carbohydrates. It also has essential fatty acids. It has both omega-3 and omega-6 fats.

Oat Milk

Oat milk is made from oats and water. It is quite thick, but has twice as many calories as nonfat milk. It is high in carbohydrates, just like oats. Still, it is high in dietary fiber and can be filling. It is creamy, thick, and satisfying. You can drink it, add it to coffee, or use it in recipes.

Cow’s milk has many essential nutrients. But, it is not for everyone. You might like the taste of other products, or you may have health or other concerns about cow’s milk. If so, there are many non-dairy milk alternatives worth trying.

For more help with a healthy diet, Lark is available on your smartphone app. Lark offers guidance in choosing a healthy diet. You can log your meals, get tips on healthy eating, and track progress towards weight loss goals. 

Losing weight can lower your risk for developing type 2 diabetes, and that’s not all. When you lose a few extra pounds, energy levels can increase, cholesterol and blood pressure can improve, and clothes fit better. Best of all is that Lark makes weight loss simple!

Lark doesn’t just know which choices can lead to weight loss. Lark coaches you on how to make good choices that can become habits. With small changes that fit right into your lifestyle, you can drop pounds and lower your risk for type 2 diabetes. Your personal coach is available 24/7 through your smartphone so you can get expert tips, track meals, physical activity, and weight loss. 

The entire program may be available at no cost to you if your health insurer covers it. Click here to find out if you may be eligible for Lark! You could be minutes away from taking the first steps to hitting your weight loss goals and improving health.

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Written by Natalie Stein on August 28, 2021
Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health
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