Whether or not you are an advocate for traditional milk, I'm here to inform you that there are many healthy alternatives to drinking cow’s milk. Whether you're allergic to lactose, or you simply dislike the flavor, there's a great deal of choices to stock your fridge with... and the best part is that all of these milks have great nutritional properties. Whether you choose to drink them as is, or mix several of them together to make your own healthy and delicious beverage, here are 7 healthy alternatives to drinking cow’s milk that are sure to inspire a new dairy-free addiction.
1. Goat’s Milk
Goat’s milk is undoubtedly one of the most common animal-based alternatives to drinking cow’s milk. For those who have issues digesting cow’s milk, goat’s milk does not require homogenization because the fat globules are naturally emulsified, meaning they stay suspended in the milk and do not rise to the top the way cow’s milk or sheep’s milk does. This may be one of the reasons some individuals tolerate goat’s milk consumption better than cow’s milk. Goat’s milk also contains a higher concentration of medium-chain triglycerides than cow’s milk. Medium-chain triglycerides are treated differently in the body than other fats, and are used as a source of immediate energy. They may also help raise metabolic rate.
2. Sheep’s Milk
Not one of the typical milks you will find in the milk section of the grocery store, sheep’s milk is another animal-based alternative to your typical cow’s milk. You will, however, usually be able to find a small variety of sheep’s milk cheese, especially if you look in the imported cheese section. You probably didn’t realize that Feta, Roquefort, Manchego, Pecorino Romano, Pecornao Sardo and Ricotta cheeses are all sheep’s milk cheeses, did you?
3. Soy Milk
As a dairy alternative, soy milk and soy milk products are at the top of the list in terms of popularity, but soy consumption is also very controversial. Soy is actually a legume, so it is higher in protein than the rest of the plant-based milks out there. And although it has been associated with some positive health effects, many believe that the phyto-estrogens in soy may affect sex hormone production. Soy also contains goitrogens, which may negatively affect thyroid production in those who are sensitive. Moreover, the majority of soy beans are genetically modified, which brings up a whole other list of issues. For this reason, I only drink (and recommend) organic soy products.
4. Almond Milk
Almond milk is definitely my own favorite alternative to cow’s milk, thanks to its light, sweet taste and versatility in numerous recipes. As a good source of Vitamin E and calcium, it is also low in both calories and fat. Be sure to buy unsweetened versions though because many of the varieties have a lot of sugar. Or better yet, make your own! It’s surprisingly easy and once you do, you will never buy the conventional stuff again!
5. Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is another popular dairy alternative. Low in fat and protein, coconut milk is light-tasting and typically found in the dairy section. It can also be found in cans, often in the Asian foods section of the store. However, this version has a much higher fat content, and is creamier tasting. Whatever version you decide to buy, make sure it’s the unsweetened variety because the «original» versions tend to have a lot of sugar.
6. Hemp Milk
Hemp seeds not only have a high concentration of protein and fiber, they also have a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, helping them to gain popularity in recent years. Unfortunately, not all this nutritional goodness transfers over to the milk, although some of the fat does remain. A cup of unsweetened hemp milk contains approximately 6 grams of fat, 9 grams of carbohydrate and 2 grams of protein, making it another noteworthy dairy alternative.
7. Rice Milk
Since some people are allergic to cow’s milk, soy and nuts, it really limits the dairy alternatives they can consume. Fortunately, rice milk is one of the few hypo-allergenic milks, meaning it’s not known to cause allergic reactions in individuals. However, rice milk doesn’t contain many nutrients, and like most other plant-based dairy alternatives, it is low in protein and higher in carbohydrates.
Whether looking for an animal-based dairy alternative, or one that is plant-based, there are many options to choose from. And while many of the animal-based varieties do contain most of the nutrients found in cow’s milk, and in certain cases, better nutrients than cow’s milk, the vegan options also offer a plethora of nutrients, and are worth trying. Even if you don’t have issues with digesting dairy, you may benefit from including these alternatives for variety in your diet, and to avoid developing an intolerance in the future. Furthermore, all of these milks can be used in a huge array of dairy-free dishes, from sauces and ice creams, to baked goods and desserts, so feel free to experiment and see which ones you like the best. What's your favorite?