What’s the best source for calcium? Until recently, every school age child across America would tell you milk and other dairy products. It was engrained in us from a very young age to think that dairy consumption was essential to growing big and strong. As adults, we’ve become fearful that we will develop osteoporosis if we don’t get enough dairy. However, the tides are turning. Although calcium is an important mineral for our bones, people are starting to realize dairy is not essential and may even be detrimental.
As talked about extensively in The China Study, by Colin Campbell, the science clearly demonstrates that dairy is not the super food group for bone health. A 2014 study on two large Swedish cohort studies reported that high milk intake was associated with higher mortality in one cohort of women and in another cohort of men, and with higher fracture incidence in women. Similarly, the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, which followed more than 72,000 women for 18 years, showed no protective effect of increased milk consumption on fracture risk.
The story goes much deeper than our bones. Increased milk consumption is also positively associated with acne, cancer, and type 1 diabetes. Rather than overwhelm you with details, I want to empower you with a call to action. The bottom line is that when transitioning to a healthy diet, the first thing to let go of is all dairy products –regardless of whether it’s from a cow, sheep or goat.
That may seem like a big change…and it may be, but it’s actually one of the easiest.
YES! THE SWITCH IS SIMPLE!
All of options below can be used to substitute milk in a 1:1 ratio for skim or low-fat milk, whether it’s being used raw, when cooking, or in baking. There’s just a couple exceptions…dishes like instant pudding won’t set-up nicely with most milk alternatives. However, it should be smooth sailing as you make the transition as we have plant-based options that are constantly being improved and expanded upon.
Depending, on what you’re using the milk for, some types may be a better match than others. To help you make your choice, here’s what you can expect from the most common non-dairy milks.
Almond milk can best be described as a lightly sweet non-dairy beverage with a delicate almond flavor. The nutty flavor in almond milk can be a plus in various desserts. The base of almond milk is typically made from ground almonds, filtered water, and a small amount of sweetener, though you can find unsweetened varieties. Due to the sweetness and nuttiness, almond milk is best left to sweet dishes. Of course, if you are looking for a nutty flavor in a savory dish than this may be a great choice there as well.
The coconut milk beverage is sold in cartons like other milk alternatives. It is relatively light compared to the canned coconut milk used in cooking, but next to the other milk alternatives it is the richest and creamiest, with almost 8 grams of fat in 1 cup. Light Coconut Milk has roughly double the amount of fat as whole milk. This can be a plus in some recipes, but if you prefer something a little lighter then use 1 part water and 1 part light coconut milk in place of whole cow’s milk.
The coconut milk beverage does have a hint of coconut flavor, but still works well in sweet recipes, on cereal, or in savory dishes where the flavor blends well, such as Asian entrees or salad dressings with sharp flavors. Canned coconut milk has more of a coconut flare than coconut milk beverage, and will impart a coconut vibe on your recipe.
You’ll usually find the canned coconut milk in the Asian or ethnic section of the grocery store. The coconut milk beverage, which is sold by the quart or half-gallon in aseptic packages, can be found with all of the other milk alternatives.
Oat milk has a nice earthy taste that isn’t too bitter or too sweet. It is great in smoothies, with cereal or granola, and works well in baked goods. I also think it is a good option for most savory and sweet recipes, but it may be a little too earthy for say, a light white sauce or creme brulee. Oat milk is more popular in Europe than in the US, but once we realize how tasty and versatile it is, it will be come a favorite here too.
As soy allergies emerged as a common concern, rice milk became more of interest as another alternative to cow’s milk. Many moms say that their kids favor the rice milk. Like soy milk, it can be used in almost any recipe. Where rice milk falls short is in its thickness. It is very light and sometimes a touch watery, so it won’t add much richness to sauces or ice creams. However, unlike soy milk, it works quite well in more delicate dessert recipes that don’t require a lot of fat.
This is the classic, original milk alternative. It does have a distinct, but mild “beany” taste - most people love this about it, but some are put off by the flavor. Nonetheless, soy milk is still considered one of the most versatile milk alternatives. It is slightly heftier in protein and fat than most milk alternatives, making it a good option to substitute milk in savory sauces and in baked goods. It can pretty much be a stand-in for milk in most recipes. However, keep that “beany” profile in mind - soy milk could overpower a delicately-flavored recipe.
YOU WILL SUCCEED
With a little effort, you will succeed in making the switch. Many people like the first plant-based milk they try, but for others it may take a little experimenting. Don’t be afraid to try something new. This is key when making the switch to being dairy-free. Remember that what you may love in your cereal may be different than what you want to use in a savory cream sauce.
If you don’t like the taste of certain milk or it didn’t have the consistency you were hoping for, just try again. It may just be that you didn’t like the brand, or maybe you didn’t like it because it was unsweetened, or maybe you’re just not a fan of rice milks.
Like most things in life, chances are that there will be some varieties you love and some you can’t stand. It’s your job to figure out which are which.