Milk or Milk Substitutes?

A crash course if you're looking for an alternative to cow's milk.

milk substitutesLooking to replace cow’s milk in your diet? Try out a milk substitute. (Photo via Thinkstock.)

Have you noticed the increasing types of milk substitutes available on the market today? Some of the major types include soy milk, almond milk, hazelnut milk, oat milk, hemp milk, and coconut milk. How do these milk substitutes compare nutritionally to regular milk? Why might you choose a substitute over regular milk?

The amount of people who are either lactose-intolerant or have a milk allergy has created the demand for milk substitutes. While it’s possible for a person to have a milk allergy and be lactose intolerant, these two conditions are different. Lactose is the natural sugar found in milk. Lactose requires an enzyme called lactase in order to be digested, and without that enzyme, your body is unable to breakdown lactose properly. The only way to treat lactose intolerance is to either take lactose out of your diet or introduce more lactase to your body via supplements like Lactaid®. A dairy allergy is quite different: It’s the body’s chemical response to the introduction of any one of the dozens proteins present in cow’s milk. Luckily, plenty of substitutes for cow milk can be found in today’s market.

Being lactose intolerant or having a milk allergy is not the only reason why some people decide to use substitutes. While it is true that cow’s milk is full of nutrients, consider that cows produce milk to help their calves grow into 1,000-pound cows. Humans are the only species on the planet that consume another species’ milk. These are some of the other reasons why people may seek out dairy alternatives. Below are some alternatives worth considering if you’re thinking about pushing aside that glass of cow’s milk.

Hemp Milk

Pro: Good source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, plant sterols, vitamins and minerals.

Con: Expensive and the flavor is very different than dairy milk.

Almond Milk

Pro: Low-fat source of calcium and vitamin E.

Con: Low in protein.

Oat Milk

Pro: Good for those who have nut allergies, and gluten-free options are available.

Con: Higher in calories than the other options.

Soy Milk

Pro: Great, low-fat source of protein and calcium.

Con: Often genetically modified and is one of the most prevalent sources of allergies and sensitivities.

Hazelnut Milk

Pro: Great taste, works well in coffee and tea.

Con: Expensive alternative that is low in protein.

Coconut Milk

Pro: Rich taste.

Con: Higher in saturated fat, more research is being conducted on how this fat is metabolized.

Rice Milk

Pro: Good tasting alternative to dairy milk and gluten-free options are available.

Con: Heavily fortified with virtually no natural nutrition.

Of course, the taste descriptions above are my own and so, it’s worth trying various options for yourself. If the price tag of milk substitutes has you worried, know that it is very easy to make some of these options yourself. For instance, oat milk is easily made from blending oats and water together and straining out large pieces. In the end, you may be wondering, why bother spending the extra money or time? Well, for people with food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances, the growing market of milk substitutes can be a life saver … literally.