Dairy substitutes have been taking over grocery store shelves for a while now as an increasing amount of people transition into a dairy-free lifestyle or limit their intake of dairy products. For many, this stems from improving their health and/or for animal welfare/environmental reasons.
Dairy products include milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, and cream.
Though quality dairy can be nutritious and can be included as part of a healthy diet, dairy can also cause problems for many individuals.
Milk is the most common allergen among adults. As we age, the majority of adults lose the ability to digest the sugar lactose found in milk, in fact nearly half of the world's population is lactose intolerant. An intolerance means you lack the enzyme to digest a particular food, and in this case, lactase. Lactose intolerance tends to increase with age. As a result, you may experience frequent gas or bloating from the consumption of dairy products.
The protein casein, the primary protein found in milk, is also commonly problematic for individuals as well as the added hormones, stimulants, and antibiotics that are routinely given to feed-lot raised animals. If you do buy dairy products always buy organic and look for pasture-raised to ensure the best quality.
Reactions to dairy can include digestive upset, skin conditions, chronic ear infections, hyperactivity, and more.
Whether you are looking to improve your health or support the environment by going dairy-free, it can have many far-reaching benefits.
But what about the alternatives? Are they just as good? Find out about our favourite non-dairy substitutes below!
Best dairy alternatives
A classic that can be used in smoothies, lattes, or as is! Almonds are a good source of vitamin E and magnesium which support heart health, skin, and hormones. Look for unsweetened almond milk to avoid added sugars.
One of the creamier dairy-free alternatives, cashew milk is a great option to add to drinks such as coffee to replace your cream. Cashews contain mostly unsaturated fats as well as the minerals potassium and magnesium, all of which benefit heart health.
Actually a fruit, coconut has a high-fat content, but it's the good kind of fat! Coconut contains medium-chain triglycerides which are used immediately as fuel by the body which can support energy and brain function. Canned coconut milk tends to provide a creamier consistency than carton coconut milk.
Less nutritional value but better tolerated by those who react to other non-dairy milks such as nuts or soy, rice milk is higher in carbs but lower in fat and protein than other alternatives. Inorganic arsenic may be a concern with high rice consumption therefore keeping consumption to a minimum is recommended.
One of the higher sources of protein, hemp is usually well tolerated by most individuals. Contrary to many other plant sources, hemp is a complete source of protein as it contains all nine essential amino acids which can be easily absorbed by the body. Hemp is also a good source of the essential fatty acids which are critically important for brain health and cell membrane health.
This is a fairly new milk on the dairy-free scene! Oat milk has become quite popular since most people can tolerate it as it is free of common allergens like soy and nuts. It also contains soluble fiber and protein, and is often enriched with vitamins such as B vitamins, vitamin D, and vitamin A, as well as calcium.
There are many dairy-free alternatives to cheese that you can find in store. These products commonly use ingredients such as soy and nuts like cashews or almonds. However, if you are going for that cheesy flavor you can also use nutritional yeast! Not only does it provide nutritional benefits but nutritional yeast also provides a savory flavor that is similar to cheese and can be used in cooking or sprinkled on foods such as pasta, sauces, popcorn, or soups.
We find coconut yogurt has the most similar consistency to dairy yogurt which is why it's our favourite! You can also find soy, almond, and hemp yogurt in most grocery or health food stores.
Homemade ice cream
Have you ever tried to make your own ice cream? You're in for a treat! Not only is it delicious but super easy! Check out our favourites here.
Coconut ice cream
A creamy alternative to dairy ice cream, coconut delivers a mouthful of deliciousness that almost tastes like the real thing! Plus coconut delivers healthy fats that keep your blood sugar stable and provide quick energy.
Coconut butter is like the tropical candy version of real butter. Coconut butter is naturally sweet and creamy from the pureed coconut meat. Spread on bread, use in baking, drizzle on fruit, or add to your oatmeal for a sweet creamy addition to your meal.
There are many vegan butter substitutes that you can find in store made from soy, coconut, or cashews.
Coconut oil is a great oil for cooking and can replace butter for higher heat cooking. The lauric acid found in coconut oil is naturally antimicrobial and may help to fight pathogens and infections. Coconut is more easily digested than other fats due to its medium-chain triglycerides content which are more rapidly and easily absorbed in the digestive tract.
Ghee, also known as clarified butter, comes from traditional Indian cuisine. It has a naturally nutty flavor and is free from casein and lactose making it more tolerable to digest than butter and giving it a higher smoke point. Ghee is also a good source of butyric acid, a short-chain fatty acid shown to benefit gut health and may even help to reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Cashew, almond, peanut, pistachio, you name it, it exists as a creamy butter! Always choose raw nut butters to avoid oxidation from the process of roasting nuts. Or you can make them yourself!
Kefir is a fermented probiotic drink that is traditionally formulated from dairy milk and uses a mixture of lactic acid bacteria, acetic acid bacteria, and yeast.
It is rich in probiotics which can help to support digestive, mental and immune health. Dairy-free versions of kefir can be made from coconut or even water in the comfort of your own home.
Coconut kefir can be made from coconut milk or coconut water along with kefir grains. Coconut kefir is particularly rich in electrolytes, probiotics, and even vitamins and minerals that can benefit health.
Believe it or not you an also make kefir from water! Water kefir is a probiotic beverage made with water kefir grains, water, and sugar. It is not as rich in probiotics as milk kefir however it still provides beneficial bacteria and yeast.
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.