The number of alternatives to cow’s milk on the market is ever increasing – so experiment! Each type has its fans but when it comes to nutrition, there is no clear winner. For some people the reason to avoid dairy is because of allergy, for others digestibility drives the decision. Gabriela provides the lowdown on some of the alternatives.
- Goat’s milk is perceived to be less allergenic and easier to digest than cow’s milk.
- Like with cow’s milk, avoid the whole/full fat varieties as they are high in saturated fat and calories.
- CAUTION: Does contain lactose and although the levels are slightly lower than those in cow’s milk, it should still be avoided if you are lactose intolerant.
- Soya milk is made from soya beans.
- It contains no cholesterol and negligible amounts of saturated fat.
- Compared with whole cow’s or goat’s milk, it is lower in calories.
- Soya milk provides the same levels of key nutrients present in those milks, including calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D and potassium and is often fortified to be nutritionally comparable to cow’s milk.
- Soya milk lacks lactose, so it’s easier for people with lactose intolerance to digest it.
- CAUTION: Because soya beans have an inherently bitter taste, soya milk is often heavily processed – and sweetened – to mask that flavour so choose one without added sugar. Additionally, soya contains a group of phytoestrogens called isoflavones, which have a similar structure to the human hormone oestrogen and have been widely debated for their ability to modulate hormone levels. For this reason, Gabriela does not advise soya milk every day.
- Made from ground almonds, it is free of cholesterol, saturated fat and is naturally lactose free.
- Almonds are a good source of iron, riboflavin, vitamin E and some essential fatty acids.
- It doesn’t contain lactose, so it’s an option for people with lactose intolerance.
- The sweet and nutty flavour goes well with coffee or cereal.
- CAUTION: Although almonds are a good source of calcium and protein, almond milk is not. The calcium and protein levels don’t compare to the levels in cow’s, goat’s or soya milks and watch out for added sweeteners.
- A glass of hemp milk contains the same number of calories as soy milk but less protein and more fat.
- Most of the fats in hemp milk are omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, key for nervous system function and healthy skin and hair. Certain omega-3 and omega-6 fats also appear to reduce inflammation and lower blood lipid levels.
- Hemp milk is free of lactose and allergies are rare.
- Like almond milk, rice milk’s main advantages are what it doesn’t contain. It is free of cholesterol and saturated fat.
- It doesn’t contain lactose and is the least likely of all the milk products to trigger allergies making it a good option for those who can’t drink soya, nut, or cow’s milk.
- Rice milk is formulated to contain levels of calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D similar to (albeit lower than) those in cow’s milk.
- CAUTION: It is not a good source of protein and often contains more calories than almond or soy milk.
- Good source of protein.
- Contains calcium and vitamin D (which is needed to absorb the calcium).
- CAUTION: Try to choose organic milk as the cows that produce organic milk are given organic feed or graze on pesticide-free grass. They’re not treated with synthetic growth hormones to increase milk production or injected with antibiotics to prevent illness.
- Many people find yoghurt easier to digest than milk.
- There are now wonderful dairy free yoghurt alternatives such as soya or coconut.
What About Calcium?
The argument that dairy is an important source of calcium for bone health is debated. Plus there are a number of other dairy free foods that are high in calcium including:
- Beans, legumes and lentils
- Salmon and sardines
- Dried figs
- Green leafy vegetables such as kale and bok choi
Just remember to try and pair non-dairy sources of calcium with vitamin D as the body needs the vitamin D to absorb calcium!