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5 of the Best Non-Dairy Milk Substitutes

by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN

It’s official, non-dairy milk substitutes have taken the world by storm! If you’ve stepped into a coffee shop or perused a grocery store lately, you’ve probably been hit by the tidal wave of non-dairy milk substitutes that have flooded the market. In 2020 alone, these milk alternatives raked in a staggering $3 billion in the United States, according to the wise folks at Statista.

Non-dairy milk substitutes have been available for many years, but now there is an emerging number of options for “plant-curious” eaters. If you are looking for a dairy alternative, this article is going to break down the many fantastic non-dairy milk substitutes.

Some of the non-diary milk substitutes can also be mixed into your smoothies or to lighten your coffee and add to your oatmeal.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to treat or diagnose any condition. It is recommended that you speak with your doctor before changing your current nutrition plan.

5 Best Non-Dairy Milk Substitutes You Should Be Using

Below are some potential non-dairy milk substitutes you can consider trying to replace cow’s milk that can be just as nutritious.

1.      Soy milk

When it comes to non-dairy milk substitutes, unsweetened soy milk is often considered the OG and most comparable to dairy milk in terms of nutrition. With approximately 80 calories per cup, it contains 8g of plant-based protein from soybeans, making it an excellent option for vegans and vegetarians.

To make soy milk, soybeans are soaked, blended, and then filtered to remove the leftover pulp. In addition to being a good source of protein, soy milk is packed with antioxidants and fiber, making it a nutrient-dense choice. It also contains essential polyunsaturated fats that are beneficial for overall health. So, unsweetened soy milk is worth considering if you’re looking for non-dairy milk substitutes that are nutritionally similar to dairy milk.

2.      Almond milk

If you’re one of the many people with a dairy allergy, almond milk may be the perfect cow’s milk alternative for you. Made from finely ground almonds and water, almond milk is virtually free of common allergens like lactose, soy, and gluten. In addition, almond milk contains anti-inflammatory properties and is generally easier to digest than dairy milk. However, be aware that some store-bought almond milk is sweetened with added sugar and fortified with many additional nutrients.

For the healthiest option, consider buying plain, organic almond milk or even making your own. There are plenty of online resources that provide step-by-step instructions for creating your own homemade almond milk to be used as a non-dairy milk substitute.

3.      Coconut milk

Coconut milk comes from water and the white flesh of coconuts. Brown coconuts are mostly used for consumption in Southeast Asian and Indian cuisines. Coconut milk is usually sold in cans in these areas mostly.

Coconut milk has a creamy texture and a sweet but subtle flavor of coconut. One cup of coconut milk contains 45 calories, 4g of fat, zero protein, and almost no carbs. Coconut milk has one-third the calories of cow’s milk, less protein and carbs, and half the fat. Coconut milk is high in saturated fat, accounting for approximately 90% of its calories.

However, the type of saturated fat found in coconut milk is mainly medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which some studies suggest may have health benefits. For instance, MCTs may help suppress appetite, aid in weight loss, and improve blood cholesterol levels to a greater extent than other types of fats.

4.      Oat milk

Oat milk is a non-dairy milk substitute made by blending oats with water. With its sweet and mild flavor, oat milk has quickly gained popularity as an alternative to cow’s milk. It has a smooth and creamy texture comparable to whole milk, making it a great substitute in recipes that call for milk. Oat milk contains roughly the same number of calories as cow’s milk but only about half the protein.

Regarding health benefits, oat milk has been linked to improved digestive health and can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Oat milk is also a good source of protein, amino acids, polyphenols, and antioxidants.

According to a study conducted on men with high cholesterol, incorporating 25oz (750ml) of oat milk into their daily diet for five weeks resulted in a 3% decrease in total cholesterol levels and a 5% reduction in LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. This suggests that oat milk may be a beneficial addition to a heart-healthy diet.

5.      Cashew milk

Cashew milk is a tasty alternative and one of the best non-dairy milk substitutes, with a nutty flavor that pairs well with tea. It is made by blending soaked cashews with water and is similar in nutrition to that of almond milk. Cashews contain essential minerals that support the immune system. Try unsweetened cashew milk in your favorite recipes for a delicious and healthy non-dairy milk substitute.

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