While some people can’t imagine their morning bowl of cereal without soaking it in milk, others forego milk and dairy completely. Whether you are allergic, intolerant, or simply choose to go dairy-free for other health concerns, you still have plenty of delicious and nutritious alternatives available. Here is some more information to guide you on your dairy-free journey.
Is Dairy-Free Better?
You may have heard that eliminating dairy foods from your diet can potentially improve your health and alleviate certain issues such as digestive woes, acne, and even inability to lose those extra pounds. Perhaps you are a vegan or simply want to avoid the hormones and antibiotics that are often administered to cattle. While dairy foods contain important nutrients such as calcium, phosphorous, protein, and vitamin D, you can obtain these nutrients elsewhere. However, instead of popping vitamins, it always best to obtain these nutrients from whole foods whenever possible, because nutrients found in whole foods are more bioavailable. They contain enzymes and other nutrients that maximize our body’s absorption of these amino acids. Since dairy foods are complete proteins, they contain all of the essential amino acids needed by the body. So what foods should you reach for?
We are accustomed to hearing that the best sources of calcium are dairy foods like cheese, yogurt, and milk. But can you meet you RDA for calcium without getting a milk mustache? Yes, you can! Dark leafy greens like kale are one of the best sources of calcium. Just one cup of this super food contains over 400 mg of calcium compared to 300 mg in a cup of milk. In addition, the calcium from dark, leafy greens has a better absorption rate than milk. Other plant-based sources include collard greens with a whopping 210 mg of calcium in just half a cup! Bok Choy, turnip greens, broccoli, chia seeds, spinach, figs, white beans, sesame seeds, and almonds all contain this bone-strengthening nutrient!
Tasty Tidbit: Tahini, a Mediterranean sesame paste, is packed with calcium, protein, and heart-healthy fats. Drizzle it over salads for a unique kick of flavor! You can also choose to sprinkle sesame seeds over your favorite foods or add them into your green smoothies.
What if you crave a cold glass of milk or the buttery taste of cream cheese? While your local grocery store is stocked with multiple substitutes, they don’t necessarily contain the same nutritional profile as dairy foods. In addition, a majority of these dairy-free alternatives contain additives that may do more harm than good. Many dairy-free types of milks are flavored and contain added sugars. Look for the unsweetened versions. The only way to know what you put into your body is to read the labels and ingredients. Let’s compare the options.
- Soymilk: This product is a liquid extract of soybeans and is readily available in today’s supermarkets. With about 6 g of protein per cup, it also fortified with calcium, vitamins A, D, B12, and riboflavin. Soymilk is also a good source of magnesium and manganese.
- Rice Milk: With sweeter taste than cow’s milk, rice milk is made from boiled rice, brown rice syrup, and brown rice starch. If you are looking to get a protein fix, this may not be your best bet. A cup of rice milk contains only 1 g of protein, very little calcium, and more carbohydrates. While a cup of cow’s milk contains 12 g carbohydrates, rice milk contains 24 g carbohydrates.
- Almond Milk: Gaining popularity as a health food item, almond milk is made from ground almonds, water, and a small amount of sweetener. While it may be a tasty option, it contains very little protein, compared to cow’s milk, but is fortified with calcium and vitamin D. An added benefit is that almond milk contains a third of the calories of 2 percent cow’s milk, and significantly less sugar, as long as you choose the unsweetened version.
- Oat Milk: Oat groats, water, and other grains are used to make oat milk, which is high in fiber, vitamin E, folic acid and iron. It has a slightly sweet flavor and is low in calories.
- Hemp Milk: For a greater protein boost, you might choose hemp milk, made from hemp seeds, water and a sweetener. Hemp seeds are naturally rich in omega-three fatty acids, but hemp milk lacks calcium. However, hemp milk is an excellent alternative to those with gluten, nut, and soy allergies.
- Coconut Milk: Coconut milk contains fiber and iron, but is higher in fat and calories than cow’s milk. The saturated fatty acids in coconut milk are generally more beneficial than the saturated fat found in cow’s milk.
Tasty Tip: Almond and coconut milks are best for baking, due to their nutty flavors that blend well with baking sweets. Rice milk, however, doesn’t hold up well in baking because of its watery texture.