4 Milk Alternatives to Try (and 4 to Avoid)
You probably have fond memories of dipping cookies into a glass of milk, sipping a cup of creamy hot chocolate after sledding, or ending your day with a glass of warm milk before bed. However, those of you who are familiar with my work know that I strongly advise against dairy.
The research bears me out and I saw it for myself with the patients in my clinic. It is one of the leading contributors to poor gut health, systemic inflammation, nagging pain, and chronic disease.1 Find out what’s at the root cause of your health issues with this quiz.
So what can you drink instead of dairy milk? I’ve got good news! There are delicious and nutritious plant-based milk alternatives.
However, not all plant milks are created equal. While some options are incredibly nutritious and healthy for your body, others have some drawbacks. Still more should be completely avoided. Let me help you cut through the hype.
Ditch the Dairy
Along with gluten, dairy is one food that I believe that everyone should avoid. Dairy is highly inflammatory and can cause digestive issues, acne, stronger presentations of autistic behaviors, and other health issues. A large percentage of the adult population has lactose intolerance, which means that they do not produce the lactase enzyme necessary to break down the milk sugar, lactose.
There are dietary supplements that can help you digest lactase. However, I don’t recommend them because there are other reasons to avoid dairy. Sensitivities to the whey and casein proteins found in dairy are common. These sensitivities may lead to bloating, gas, fatigue, headaches, and other nagging chronic symptoms.
The casein protein in dairy is also structurally similar to gluten, which may lead to the same type of problems as gluten does, including inflammation, molecular mimicry, leaky gut syndrome, and autoimmunity. As I discussed in this article, though sheep’s and goat’s milk may be easier on your stomach, they may also cause similar issues as cow’s milk. Lastly, non-organic dairy is also filled with hormones and antibiotics that may lead to mood swings, acne, and other health issues. 2,3,4,5
4 Plant Milks to Try
Coconut milk is a delicious and creamy plant milk that comes from the coconut’s white flesh, unlike coconut water, which is the clear, fat-free liquid found inside immature coconuts. Like dairy milk, it is available in several fat content percentages. It is sold in cans for cooking and cartons for drinking.
Coconut milk is not recommended on the first phase of the low FODMAPS diet, however, you may enjoy it during and after an autoimmune diet and as part of a keto or Paleo diet. It’s rich in healthy saturated fats, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron. The medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in coconut milk may aid weight loss by balancing your microbiome and blood sugar levels, and lowering your appetite. Furthermore, coconut milk may also have anti-inflammatory and antibiotic benefits. 6,7,8,9,10
Almond milk is perhaps the most popular plant milk out there. It’s made from the fruit of the almond tree. (Tree nuts are actually considered the fruit of the trees they grow on!) Though it is not recommended during the first part of an autoimmune diet, it is allowed after the reintroduction phase and on the low FODMAPS diet, as well as on a keto or Paleo diet.
The creamy texture of almond milk is similar to dairy milk and it has a delicious nutty flavor. Almond milk is rich in vitamin E, magnesium, riboflavin, and thiamin. It has a third of the calories of cow’s milk and is also much lower in carbohydrates. Unsweetened almond milk doesn’t raise your blood sugar since it only has 0.6 percent of carbs compared to five percent in cow’s milk.
Besides your blood sugar levels, almond milk may also benefit your heart. Research has found that consuming almonds can result in changes that are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, such as reducing bad cholesterol and lowering triglycerides, while increasing good HDL cholesterol and making beneficial changes to your blood lipid profile.11,12,13,14,15,16
Cashew milk is rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, iron, magnesium, and potassium. It also has a high protein content. Depending on the brand, one cup may have nearly five grams of protein, making it an excellent choice if you are looking for a little protein boost. Although I don’t recommend it during the first stage of an autoimmune diet, it is allowed after the reintroduction phase and on the low FODMAPS diet, as well as on a keto or Paleo diet.
Due to its healthy fat, potassium, and magnesium content, it may boost your heart health and may reduce your risk of strokes and heart attacks. Cashew milk may help to balance your blood sugar levels. Thanks to its antioxidants, it may lower inflammation and boost your immune system. It may also benefit your eye health thanks to eye-friendlylutein, and zeaxanthin. Furthermore, research has also shown that cashews may also have anti-cancer benefits, particularly for breast and skin cancer.17,18,19,20,21,22
Hemp milk is a highly nutritious plant milk with an earthy and nutty flavor. It may be a perfect part of a low FODMAP diet, and you may enjoy it after the reintroduction phase of an autoimmune diet.
Hemp milk is a good source of protein, healthy fats, calcium, and iron. It is rich in anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids and has the ideal Omega-3 and Omega-6 balance, between a 2:1 and 3:1 ratio. Thanks to all the Omega-3 fatty acids, hemp milk may reduce inflammation, protect your skin health, and reduce signs of aging. With the help of Omega-3s and an amino acid called arginine, hemp milk may also help to reduce your blood pressure and your risk of heart disease.23,24,25,26,27,28
4 Plant Milks to Avoid
Soy is a common allergen and is hard on your digestion. Soy also contains chemical compounds called isoflavones that mimic estrogen. Research suggests that soy-based foods and a diet high in soy may lead to fertility issues, hormonal imbalance, and lower sperm count. Soy milk also contains a chemical compound called goitrogens that may suppress your thyroid gland, making it especially unsafe for those with thyroid issues.29,30,31
Oat milk is a popular plant milk that is easy to make by blending oats and water together. While it is probably not the worst thing you can drink, it’s not the best option. Oats are high in carbs and may raise your blood sugar levels and lead to inflammation. Moreover, many oat milk brands on the market are full of added sugar and additives. Some brands may even include refined oil, such as canola oil that may lead to inflammation in your body.
There is also a high risk of pesticide residue and gluten cross-contamination, meaning the oats that the milk comes from may not be gluten-free. Because gluten may lead to food sensitivities, systemic inflammation, leaky gut syndrome, and consequent health issues, including autoimmune diseases, I advise staying away from oat milk.32
Although it’s rich in protein, I recommend you pass on this one. Peas are legumes that may not be digested well. Partially digested foods in the digestive system can provide food for the bad bacteria in your gut and disrupt your gut balance. This may lead to leaky gut syndrome, which is the root cause of autoimmune diseases and other health problems.
Rice milk may seem like a good option, however most rice milks are filled with additives and low in nutrients. Rice milk is very high in carbs and may lead to blood sugar issues, gut imbalance, and weight gain. It has also been shown to have higher levels of inorganic arsenic. Even the Food and Drug Administration has recommended pregnant women, children, and infants avoid it.33,34
While I often point out that our modern diet is lacking in many ways from that of our ancestors, one of the best new developments is that there are now great-tasting, non-dairy alternatives to cow’s milk. While my personal favorite is coconut milk, you may find that hemp milk is a tempting option or that, if you are able to comfortably consume nuts, almond, or cashew milk works for you.
Regardless of the one you choose, let’s raise a glass and toast the healthy, gut-supporting alternatives to dairy. And if you’re still experiencing uncomfortable gas, bloating, or other symptoms even after ditching the dairy, check out this handy quiz to uncover the root cause.
I know it can be difficult to change the way you eat! Whether you’ve already given up dairy or need a little push to eliminate this inflammatory food from your diet, check out my cookbook for simple and delicious recipes that prove you’ll never feel deprived. I’ve included dozens of recipes for everything from soups and main courses to side dishes and desserts that make it easy to ditch the dairy for your optimal health.
Finally, while you are trying out different options, support your digestion with my Complete Enzymes. I formulated these to support optimal digestion and nutrient absorption, as well as assist the body’s intestinal repair and inflammation responses. It’s the very best digestive enzyme available to break down a broad spectrum of foods.