What are Good Alternatives to Dairy Milk? It’s Complicated and Here’s Why

Maybe you’re lactose intolerant. Maybe you want to adapt eco conscious or sustainable lifestyle. Or maybe, you simply want to find or try dairy milk alternatives. There are many reasons to seeking milk that doesn’t come from livestock.

But before I go on, I must tell you that if you’re not lactose intolerant or you still want to consume dairy milk, the protein contained in dairy milk is higher than the ones in plant-based milk.

Also, dairy is just milk without additives like thickeners or sugars (for palatability) that you can find in some plant-based milk. But again, if you have severe intolerance, then you should ditch it completely and find the substitutes. I heard goat milk is a good one—I mean kittens can have it although not too much.

Don’t forget that nondairy and dairy-free are not the same thing, because nondairy products may contain milk proteins like casein or whey or other milk derivatives. Dairy-free, on other hand, means what it says. If you absolutely don’t want dairy in your life, make sure to always review the label’s ingredient list.

Now, if you want to be more eco friendly or sustainable, plant-based milk is usually the go-to alternatives. But, it’s not “Soy is the best” or something like that, because there are pros and cons to each option.

Although, A 2018 study by researchers at the University of Oxford showed that producing a glass of dairy milk results in almost three times more greenhouse gas emissions than any plant-based milk and it consumes nine times more land than any of the milk alternatives.

From this research, we can conclude that although plant milks are not all sunshine and rainbows, it’s still the better choice, concerning methane or greenhouse gas emissions.

The dark side of plant-based milks is when crops of any kind get mass produced (or planted in this case). It’s not just about whether they’re organic or not, because other factors such as native habitats, water use, and carbon footprint can make us disillusioned.

Soy milk

soy milk, the most popular plant-based alternative to dairy milk

This is the most popular dairy alternative in where I’m from, particularly because this plant milk has existed and been consumed long before the newer plant-based came.

We find a lot of protein in soy, so drinking soy milk is good for those of you who need it. A glass of soy milk contains 8 grams of protein, 45% of your daily calcium, and 110 calories. Some brands fortify their products with vitamin D as well.

The drawback is the mass-grown soybeans around the world because the demands are huge. Many news outlets said that rainforest in Amazon have been burned to make way for soy farms. The better option you can get is soy milk made from organic soybeans grown locally.

Coconut milk

Personally, I’d rather drink coconut water than the milk, it’s too rich for my taste. But I know that a lot of people like it because it’s creamy with both sweet and sour notes and it’s perfect for smoothies and baked goods. It contains protein and virtually zero carbs, which is good.

Something that’s not so good about this milk is that the pickers or workers in Philippines, Indonesia, and India are often paid less than a dollar in a day. And, coconut trees only grow in tropical climates, so manufacturers have to meet global demand that causes deforestation and exploitation of workers.

So, in order to not participate in such unethical and unsustainable practices, get coconut products that are certified fair trade.

Almond milk

almond milk

Almonds. The Oxford study stated that they need more water than any other dairy alternative, consuming 61.5 litres (130 pints) of water to produce a single glass of almond milk.

And there’s the problem with bees. Yep, the demand for almond crops make them suffer. Nearly 70% of commercial bees in the US are drafted every spring to pollinate almonds. Last year, a record number –over one-third of them– died by season’s end as a result of these pressures and other environmental threats.

Almond milk is, however, sweet, slightly nutty, low-cal, and low-carb (36 calories and a gram of carbs per 284 ml). A good choice for you if you strive to lose weight, but a bad one if you want to get muscle gains, since it has only a gram of protein per 227 ml.

Rice milk

Just like almond, rice requires a lot of water, according to the Oxford study. It doesn’t kill bees, but it produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other plant milk and fertilizer needed to grow paddies pollute waterways.

But the good thing about rice milk is that it’s naturally sweet and it tastes a lot like regular dairy milk (with a hint of rice, of course), making it a great choice for beginners. Unfortunately, some brands may add fillers like oils for creaminess and it has a high amount of carbs.

Hazelnut milk

I haven’t tasted this milk and I was disappointed when I read and found out it doesn’t taste like Nutella (the original, unflavored one, that is). There goes my daydream of making a cup of delicious hazelnut hot chocolate using this milk.

Since it’s made from hazelnut, it has a slightly nutty flavor, similar to cashew milk that’s rich and creamy. But, compared to other nut milks, this one has more calories (110 kcal per 227 ml). It’s also not a good choice for those gymgoers because the protein content is only 2 grams per 284 ml.

Now, this milk is probably the best option because the trees are pollinated by the wind as opposed to commercial honeybees. Moreover, the trees help reduce greenhouse emissions and pull carbon from the atmosphere.

I don’t know the drawbacks of this milk yet, so of all plant milks, this might be your best bet, given that your location is not far from the farm or manufacturers.

Oat milk

oat milk, coffee lovers' favorite

Second best option is probably oat milk. Firstly, it’s rich in beta-glucan, naturally sweet, and creamy and it doesn’t contain any additives with just oats, water, and some salt. Secondly, it provides a lot of healthy complex carbs, making it perfect for vegan gymgoers or athletes.

Oh, and according to this site, if you can’t live without coffee, oat milk is the best choice for you. More of a tea person? This site explains it for you.

If you live in the US or Canada, then it’s even better because oats are grown in cooler climates and not associated with deforestation in developing countries.

There’s still a drawback, though. Most oats come from mass-produced, monoculture operations where they are sprayed with the Roundup pesticide right before harvest.

The Environmental Working Group found glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and a possible carcinogen, in all the foods it tested containing conventionally grown oats and even in one-third of products made with organic oats.

So if you want to get this milk, it’s better to do your research first and find out if the brand/company is certified glyphosate free.

What’s your choice of plant milk? As for me, I don’t know what kind of crops that are sustainable in my country, so for now my choice is consuming milk less. I mean, I can get protein from other sources, can’t I? What about you?




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