Coffee is a staple for many people. Barring its energizing properties, true coffee lovers get a great deal of satisfaction from a perfectly brewed cup of coffee. However, sometimes there’s a hiccup – many people today, like me, have allergies and intolerances that make it difficult to just make or order a coffee with regular milk. So what are the best alternatives, if that’s you?
Soy milk is closest to cow’s milk. Almond milk is suitable for vegans and low in calories, while coconut milk is high in fat and can be used by those with nut allergies. Oat milk provides additional fiber but is high in carbs. Rice milk is hypoallergenic but not suitable for people with diabetes.
Regardless of why you want an alternative to dairy, there are so many options to consider. Let’s look at which ones are the best for you.
Why An Alternative?
Knowing why you need an alternative is important because it affects which non-dairy options you should consider. Here are some of the most common reasons for wanting an alternative to standard milk.
- Allergies or intolerances: A more significant number of people report intolerance to milk and milk products. Whether it causes gastric upsets, triggers headaches, or worsens reflux symptoms, many people avoid milk because it just doesn’t work with their bodies.
- Health concerns: Conditions such as Crohn’s, inflammatory bowel syndrome, and Colitis make dairy a no-go.
- Weight loss or weight control: Although this is not for everyone, some dietician-led programs may require cutting down on dairy to manage weight loss. Whether this is for health reasons or not, it’s doable to cut out or decrease your dairy consumption by finding an alternative.
- Beliefs: The belief that dairy products propagate the mistreatment of animals is also a reason why many people choose to forego supporting the dairy industry, opting for vegan alternatives instead.
- Taste preference: Some people prefer the taste of specific alternatives over regular milk, especially since some other options, like coconut milk, have a distinct flavor.
Now that we’ve seen why some people need to have a different plan, we can look at some of the best non-dairy milk options for their cup of Joe.
The 5 Best Non-Dairy Milk Alternatives
There are more than just a handful of options available to choose from. Let’s discuss the five most popular alternatives and why each is beneficial.
1. Soy Milk
Soy milk is nothing new and has been around ages. Soy alternatives are available even in baby formula for those who are lactose intolerant. It’s made from soybeans that are soaked, blended, and strained. Here are some of the pros and cons of soy-based alternatives:
- Packed with essential amino acids
- Nutritionally balanced
- Closest to cow’s milk in terms of protein content
- Half the calories, fats, and carbohydrates of regular milk
- Soy is one of the most common allergens
- Concerns that most soy in the USA is produced from genetically modified plants
2. Almond Milk
As the name suggests, almond milk is made from ground almonds prepared with filtered water – in some cases, starches and thickeners are added. As this is made from nuts, there is no calcium or protein inherent to almond milk, so the manufacturer often adds this.
- Vegan and lactose-free
- Low in calories
- Generally fortified with calcium, and Vitamins A and D
- Creamy taste
- Available in sweetened and unsweetened versions
- No protein in almond milk
- Digestive issues can be triggered by carrageenan, which may be present in some brands of almond milk.
3. Coconut Milk
No, this doesn’t speak about the liquid found inside whole coconuts; instead, coconut milk is made from coconut cream – the grated, mature flesh of a coconut prepared with filtered water. It’s a much more diluted version of what is commonly found in cans and used in cooking. While it may not be ideal for those trying to up their protein intake, it’s good if you’re trying to cut down on carbs.
- Safe for those with nut allergies
- Added vitamins and calcium
- Lower in carbohydrates than other nut milks or grain-based alternatives
- High-fat content makes you feel fuller
- Higher fat content, which some may be trying to avoid
- Coconut taste – although we’re not always sure this is a negative thing!
- Not a source of protein
4. Oat Milk
As you can imagine, oat milk is made from a blend of filtered water and natural oats. However, a variety of additional ingredients are included to improve the taste and texture. It can be used in a variety of ways and has become somewhat trendy in recent years. Manufacturers add fiber to it, which has a variety of benefits:
- Additional fiber makes it filling
- Inexpensive and can be made at home without too much hassle
- Sweet, mild flavor
- High in carbs and calories
- It contains beta-glucan, which has shown some evidence of lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
5. Rice Milk
To make rice milk, white or brown rice is finely milled and mixed with filtered water. Other ingredients are added to enhance texture and taste. This is an excellent option for those who have multiple allergies or intolerances to dairy, gluten, soy, and nuts. Due to its high carbohydrate levels and low protein content, this is not a great alternative for people with diabetes, growing children, athletes, or older folks.
- Most hypoallergenic non-dairy milk alternative
- Low in fat
- Low protein content
- A high glycemic index means it raises blood sugar levels
- A bland taste that often requires added sweeteners
- Potential health risk over the long term due to inorganic arsenic levels
What About Lactose-Free Milk?
You may be wondering why we haven’t discussed lactose-free milk; the reason is that we wanted to discuss the best milk alternatives that are non-dairy. Lactose-free milk is regular milk with the enzyme lactase added, breaking down lactose proteins into easily digested sugars.
While this makes it suitable for those with lactose intolerances, it doesn’t tick the boxes of those choosing a non-dairy alternative as vegans or those who harbor ethical concerns regarding the treatment of animals in the dairy industry.
There are numerous alternatives to regular cow’s milk these days, and with so many on the menu, it can be challenging to decide which is right for you. Depending on your reasons for wanting a non-dairy alternative, coconut or almond milk seems to be the most balanced alternatives.
Whereas almond milk has a creamy taste, is suitable for vegans, and is low in calories, it does have the negatives that it isn’t suitable for those with nut allergies or those seeking more protein. Coconut milk is higher in fat, which may actually help with weight loss due to feeling fuller. It is also suitable for vegans and those with nut allergies.