Non-Dairy Alternatives for Milk-Free Diets

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Decades ago when my daughter was a toddler, having milk allergies or being lactose intolerant was considered by the general populace to be very strange and finding dairy alternatives was almost unheard of. So kids had to do without ice cream, cereal and all the other foods made from or consumed with milk.

In fact, many kids had to live with unpleasant stomach, asthma or bowel problems, because not enough was known about allergies in general and no one wanted to point a finger or even consider that an important item on the recommended food guide (milk) could be the culprit of all that discomfort.

As it turned out, some in our family suffered for years from the effects of drinking milk but we were lax to stop it, since we didn’t fully understand the symptoms. Today, there’s more information available and the need for non-dairy alternatives is alarmingly widespread.

Don’t get me wrong, I love milk and I’m not promoting you stop drinking it.  Just accept the fact that people can develop a problem with milk at birth, later in childhood or even in their senior years.  That’s the part that so many find hard to digest.  The fact that they’ve been drinking milk all their life and all of a sudden, don’t feel well and are prompted to look for dairy alternatives. But it does happen.

In our family alone, there are some suspected cases of dairy allergy and some confirmed allergies to milk protein, as well as lactose intolerance.  And yes, there are that many (and more) problems associated with milk and dairy in general. By dairy I mean milk, cream, ice cream, cheese, yogurt, anything made with cow’s milk, as well as all the milk derivatives found in prepacked foods.

Dairy alternatives are still rather limited, though there’s much more choice than there was thirty years ago.  Lactaid® is a lactose-reduced dairy milk and is often used by those with lactose intolerance.  I believe there are also pill form medication that can be taken to help alleviate intolerance symptoms.

I haven’t yet found a dairy alternative that performs exactly like milk when it comes to baking.  The fat content in cow’s milk enhances baking performance as well as taste, and unfortunately, though dairy alternatives are a must, it’s just not the same results.

So if you use any of the dairy alternatives listed below, know that baking will not rise the same or come out as good as when regular dairy milk is used. But using a dairy alternative can allow you to enjoy some baking and the foods you like.

For information about food allergies, check out Food Allergies at About.com

Soy Milk

Soy milk has been a very popular milk replacement for years. High in protein, it’s one of the most common and easiest to find in the grocery.  You can make it easily with a soy milk maker and a few soy beans, which are extremely low cost.

I’ve tested the Soyabella in the past and the soy milk made with this appliance was very good.  The appliance itself was well made, looked great and was easy to use.  Unfortunately, many of us are also allergic to soy, so I had to look beyond this healthy bean for our dairy alternative.

Rice Milk (White or Brown)

Rice milk is another common dairy substitute and it’s available in white or brown rice from several brands.  Rice Dream® is sold with soy or without and it’s important to read all ingredients if you also have a soy allergy.  This brand tastes better than plain rice milk.

You can also make your own rice milk with a blender but it’s a tedious task and I found it difficult to get a nice tasting homemade blend. Even with the Soyabella, it came out fine but was messy to clean up. And no amount of flavoring (sugar, honey, maple syrup), made it taste good.

You can usually make rice milk with most soy milk makers, as well as almond milk since the same process is used. I finally deducted that rice milk needs a factory-style multi-stage processing, to taste the best. Note that homemade rice, almond or soy milk does not freeze well and must be made on demand or can be refrigerated a couple of days.

Almond Milk Beverage

Another dairy alternative worth considering and far better tasting is almond beverage, which is available in a few brands.  Silk® True Almond® is my favorite.  As a non-dairy alternative, this fortified almond beverage has a very pleasant taste that’s easy to get used to and is really good with cereal or for drinking.

A plus is that it has a very long refrigerated shelf life and is reasonably priced.  Its best feature is the fact that almonds are extremely high in calcium and one cup of Silk True Almond has 30% calcium and only 60 calories.  So you can enjoy this dairy alternative and know that you’re also boosting your calcium intake.

You can make almond milk with an appliance such as the Soyabella, but given the cost of almonds, it’s really cheaper to buy this ready-made beverage.  Almond milk is more readily available at larger food stores.

As for other dairy replacements for whipped topping, you can use Cool Whip® which is an edible oil product and Coffeemate® in your coffee instead of dairy cream.  If you have severe allergies or intolerances make sure to read all ingredients on the package, before consuming any non-dairy product.

Allergies and intolerances are on the rise. Consumers need to be proactive to find food alternatives that work for them to maintain good health and still enjoy a variety of foods. I’m always on the lookout for daily alternatives that are palatable – not all are.  I also regularily experiment with non-dairy in baking and cooking, so I’ll be posting updates and tips to this page as available.


 

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