There are many reasons why an individual might choose to consume an alternative beverage to milk. These can include lactose intolerance, ethical objections to consuming milk, a milk allergy, or simply a preference for the taste of these innovative beverages.

Lactose intolerance is the inability to metabolize lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products, because the required enzyme, lactase, is absent in the intestinal system or its availability is lowered. This condition can sometimes be confused with milk allergy, an immune reaction to one or more of the many proteins in milk, which is a rare condition.

Avoiding milk, if you must, can be quite challenging, as many foods contain it or its components. Milk is a source of several nutrients, which play vital roles in the human body, so there are nutritional concerns associated with eliminating milk from your diet.

A lactose-controlled diet can provide an adequate amount of all essential nutrients, although careful food choices are required. Fortunately, there are a number of milk alternatives available to bridge some of the nutrient gaps. A registered dietitian or physician can help you in making these selections. You will find several options below for your consideration.

CAUTION: Goat’s milk protein is similar to cow’s milk protein and can cause a reaction in milk-allergic individuals. It is not a safe alternative.



For those who must restrict milk intake, calcium adequacy is a major nutritional concern. To ensure adequate intake, those who are lactose-intolerant should try to include some dairy products in their diets. Here are some tips to increase tolerance:

  • Consume dairy products with meals because lactose is better tolerated when mixed with other foods.
  • Take small portions of lactose-containing foods, as even those who are lactose-intolerant can handle 4-6oz of milk when consumed with meals.
  • Vary meals that contain lactose-containing foods with meals those are low in lactose-containing foods.
  • Those who have primary lactase deficiency may better tolerate higher-fat dairy foods such as whole milk and ice cream than low-fat dairy foods, which have a higher lactose content.
  • Cocoa, as in chocolate milk, increases tolerance to dairy products.
  • Choose a brand of yogurt that contains active cultures (check the label for ‘live’ and ‘active’ cultures), as bacterial cultures promote lactose breakdown in the gut.
  • Cooked milk products such as custard, soup, and pudding may be easier to tolerate.

The following foods are high in calcium and may be of particular interest to individuals who choose not to consume any dairy products at all. These food sources have the calcium equivalent to one cup of milk:

  • l¼ cups dark green vegetables (broccoli, spinach, dark leafy greens)
  • 2½-3 cups cooked dried beans or peas (pinto, baked, black, chickpeas)
  • 1½ cups firm tofu
  • 3oz canned sardines or salmon (eaten with bones)
  • 1 cup calcium-fortified orange or grapefruit juice
  • 3oz almonds

Alka Chopra is a registered dietitian working in Toronto for a Community Health Centre and Family Health Team in addition to running a private practise. She has more than 10 years of teaching experience in India. Alka immigrated to Canada seven years ago and has practised here since achieving her Canadian RD designation. Alka’s passion is Nutrition Education, as she strongly believes that education is the key to solving many of our health problems.


Lactose Free Alternatives


If you are avoiding milk due to lactose-intolerance, then LACTAID® milk is a good choice, which is cow’s milk containing a natural enzyme, lactase, added to break down the lactose. You might notice that this product has a slightly sweeter taste than that of regular milk and this is because the milk sugar (lactose) is broken down into a form that is readily absorbed by the body. Having lactase added to the milk allows those who are lactose-intolerant to enjoy cow’s milk without the digestive side effects of abdominal cramps, bloating, and flatulence. This milk is available in many formats, including flavoured varieties. Use as you would regular milk.

Nutritional Information:
Serving Size: 250mL (1 cup) Skimmed

Calories 80
Protein 8g
Carbohydrate 12g
Total Fat 0g
Fibre 0g
Calcium 300mg



Soymilk is one of the oldest known milk substitutes, dating back to the first century AD in China. It’s the closest match to cow’s milk in nutrient content and consistency and the most frequently offered milk substitute at coffee shops. Soymilk is an excellent source of thiamine (0.39mg) and a good source of magnesium (46mg) and riboflavin (0.17mg). As a nutritious, high-protein product, soy demonstrates many health benefits but some controversy exists over its excessive use, so enjoy this beverage, but use caution. Soymilk comes in many varieties and flavours and in low-fat and fat-free versions.

Nutritional Information:
Serving Size: 250mL (1 cup) Plain

Calories 100
Protein 7g
Carbohydrate 8g
Total Fat 4g
Fibre 1g
Calcium 300mg


Almond Milk

Almond milk’s pleasant taste makes it delicious straight from a glass, poured on breakfast cereals, or puréed with frozen berries or bananas for a refreshing smoothie. Although low in protein compared to cow’s milk, it is high in magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper, vitamin E, selenium, and calcium. Almond milk is available widely in cartons, either on the shelves or in the refrigerated section. It will keep for 7 to 10 days refrigerated once opened, or for several months if still sealed. For optimal flavour, refrigerate overnight before opening. It is available plain, flavoured, and fortified.

Try making your own almond milk; it’s really easy. Per cup of water, use ¼ cup of raw (untoasted) almonds. Grind almonds in a blender until fine, pour in water and blend some more. Add a teaspoon to a tablespoon of pure maple syrup to suit your taste and blend. Strain through cheesecloth and enjoy!

Nutritional Information:
Serving Size: 250mL (1 cup) Plain

Calories 60
Protein 1g
Carbohydrate 8g
Total Fat 2.5g
Fibre 1g
Calcium 200mg


Oat Milk

This product is gaining popularity but might not be as readily available to purchase as some other milk substitutes. Oat milk is mild tasting and light in texture. It contains vitamin E, folic acid, and other trace elements and minerals. Those with celiac disease should avoid oat milk, as its safety is not established.

You can make your own oat milk by mixing one part oats to two parts water, leaving it overnight, and then straining through cheesecloth the next day, or for additional fibre just blend the mixture thoroughly. You may wish to add a touch of vanilla and/or maple syrup to suit your taste.

Nutritional Information:
Serving Size: 250mL (1 cup) Plain

Calories 130
Protein 4g
Carbohydrate 24g
Total Fat 2.5g
Fibre 2g
Calcium 300mg


Multi-Grain Milk

You can consume multi-grain milk straight from a glass, or use it on cereals, or purée it with fruit for an energy drink. You can find multi-grain milk in cartons, either on the shelves or in the refrigerated section of natural foods stores and grocery stores. For an extended shelf life and optimal taste, refrigerate overnight before opening. It’s available plain, flavoured, and fortified.

Nutritional Information:
Serving Size: 250mL (1 cup) Plain

Calories 150
Protein 3g
Carbohydrate 31g
Total Fat 2g
Fibre 0g


Rice Milk

While low in protein, at only 1 gram of protein per cup, rice milk is usually made from fortified brown rice and therefore is a good source of calcium (150mg) and an excellent source of vitamin D (120 IU). Rice milk is watery and added sweeteners enhance its mild flavour.

To make rice milk at home, soak one part of (preferably) brown rice in three parts water overnight. Blend in the morning for 3-5 minutes and add rice syrup, or other natural sweetener to taste. Strain through cheesecloth.

Nutritional Information:
Serving Size: 250mL (1cup) Fortified

Calories 120
Protein 1g
Carbohydrate 24g
Total Fat 2.5g
Fibre 0g
Calcium 150mg


Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is low in sodium, high in manganese, and very high in saturated fat; therefore, try to limit its use. Many recipes call for coconut milk due to the flavour-enhancing properties of the high fat content. Commonly available in canned form, coconut milk only lasts a few days once opened. To use as a milk alternative, mix one part coconut milk and one part water.

You can make coconut milk by processing fresh, grated coconut with hot water and then squeezing the mixture through cheesecloth.

Nutritional Information:
Serving Size: 250mL (1 cup)

Calories 552
Protein 5.5g
Carbohydrate 13.3g
Total Fat 57.2g
Fibre 5.3g
Calcium 40.7mg

Note: Do not confuse coconut milk with the watery liquid found in the centre of the coconut; this product is known as coconut water and is sweet tasting and low in calories. Coconut water, although not a suitable milk substitution is very refreshing, and a natural energy drink.


Hemp Milk

Made from hemp seeds legally grown in Canada, this milk is ideal for use in smoothies, cereal, soups, and baking, where its natural earthy flavour is best masked. Hemp milk is high in protein, packed with calcium, vitamin E, omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), may be fortified with additional vitamins and minerals, and comes in a variety of flavours.

Nutritional Information:
Serving Size: 250mL (1 cup) Plain

Calories 110
Protein 5g
Carbohydrate 7g
Total Fat 7g
Fibre 1g
Calcium 20mg


Alka Chopra, Registered Dietitian
First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 169 – 2008