Soy milk and beans

A Guide to Non-Dairy Substitutes

If you’re lactose intolerant or are trying to consume fewer animal products for ethical or environemental reasons, there are so many alternatives to cow’s milk on the market for you to enjoy.

Types of Plant Milk

The list of plant-based beverages made from grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts is growing, with new products hitting the shelves every year. We’ve compiled a list of seven popular non-dairy substitutes and included the pros and cons of each to help you navigate the options.

Soy Milk

Soy milk is one of the easiest plant-based beverages to find at the grocery store and is an excellent substitute for cow’s milk. According to a study by researchers at the University of Montreal, soy milk is one of the most nutritious plant milks. It contains around seven grams of protein per cup (250 ml), nearly the same amount of protein as in cow’s milk.

Soy milk comes in a variety of flavours such as chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. But be sure to check how much sugar is added—some products contain up to 18 grams per cup. For a healthier option, opt for the unsweetened original variety or a flavoured version that is low in added sugar.

Almond Milk

The sweet flavour and creamy texture of almond milk makes it one of the most popular plant-based beverages. It’s low in calories and is a good source of vitamin E, calcium, and monounsaturated fatty acids, in addition to being available at most grocery stores. It’s also a good option if you’re looking to limit your sugar intake, provided you choose a variety with no added sugar.

Like most plant-based beverages, almond milk is not a good source of protein—it contains less than two grams per cup. Almond milk is also one of the most harmful plant-based milks for the environment—it takes up to 74 litres of fresh water to produce a single 200 ml glass—but is less polluting than cow's milk.

Oat Milk

Oat milk is known for its naturally sweet taste and smooth texture. It’s great in smoothies, with cereal, or simply on its own. It’s often fortified, making it a good source of B vitamins, such as B2 and B12, and contains a high level of beta-glucans, which are known to lower cholesterol. However, it only contains three grams of protein per cup.

Oat milk is a good option if you have nut, lactose, or soy allergies or intolerances. If you are following a low FODMAP diet, you can buy a gluten-free variety.

Fun fact: It takes very little fresh water to make oat milk, especially if the oats are grown locally, making it a very environmentally friendly choice!

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is made by blending white coconut flesh and water. It’s a very popular substitute for cream and is used in many Asian, South American, and Caribbean cuisines.

Coconut milk has fewer calories than cream and is a good source of iron and other minerals. However, it’s not a perfect substitute for cow’s milk, since it contains very little protein (around five grams per cup).

It makes an excellent ingredient in rich, creamy sauces. A lot of coconut products on the market can be used in place of dairy products, such as coconut cream and coconut-based yogurt substitutes.

Rice Milk

Rice milk is known for its subtle and naturally sweet taste. It contains very few allergens, making it a good option if you have dairy, nut, soy, wheat, or gluten allergies or intolerances. Rice milk contains a significant amount of carbohydrates—much more than most other milk substitutes—so it may not be the best option for people with diabetes. Compared to the other plant-based drinks on the list, rice milk is low in nutritional value and contains almost no protein.

Like almond milk, rice milk is hard on the environment, requiring up to 54 litres of fresh water for a single glass. A balanced diet should include a variety of grains, so opt for another plant-based beverage if you already consume a lot of rice.

Cashew Milk

Cashew milk has a rich, creamy consistency, making it an excellent substitute for milk products in various recipes, especially creamy sauces. You can find it in most grocery stores and it comes in a variety of flavours. Like the nut itself, cashew milk has a sweet, rich, creamy taste, which explains why it’s becoming so popular. It’s also loaded with nutrients such as monounsaturated fats and potassium, especially if it’s homemade.

It contains slightly more protein than almond milk, but is still not a sufficient source of protein.

Hemp Milk

Like most plant-based beverages, hemp milk comes in a variety of flavours such as chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. It contains more protein that most plant milks, apart from soy, and is a source of good fats and omega-6 and omega-3. It’s also a great choice for people who don’t eat gluten, nuts, dairy products, wheat, or soy.

Hemp milk has a strong, pronounced taste, which might not appeal to people who prefer a more neutral or sweeter plant milk.

Hemp milk is often produced locally, which means fewer greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, but it is harder to find—not all grocery stores carry it.

Additional Advice

  • Flavoured plant milks can contain large amounts of sugar. Read the nutrition facts label and look for varieties with no added sugar.
  • Choose plant milks that are enriched with vitamins and calcium. Nutritionist Isabelle Huot recommends checking the nutrition facts table to see if a beverage is fortified. If the amount of vitamin E is less than 5%, it’s not fortified.
  • To reduce your ecological footprint, choose plant-based beverages that are made locally and limit your consumption of drinks that are hard on the environment such as almond milk and rice milk.
  • Most plant milks can be made at home, which can keep your costs down. Some plant-based beverages, like cashew milk, are more nutritious, while others contain less nutrients because they are not fortified. You may find the texture is a little watery, given the additives in most plant-based beverages to make them smoother.

NOTE: This article is for information only and cannot replace expert advice.


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