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Lighten Up With Dairy Alternatives

By Alana Sugar, January 25, 2010  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Alana Sugar
brown_rice_pudding Any chance you've noticed the number of non-dairy milk, cheese and ice cream replacements available these days? The choices are soaring - even in conventional grocery stores! Plenty of people stay away from dairy products for a number of reasons, including allergies, lactose intolerance and concern over the environment or the way animals are raised and treated. While organic dairy products can be a healthy option, some people feel better, lighter or less congested with fewer dairy products or none at all. If you are one of these people, take heart! It's never been easier to lighten up or go dairy-free than it is right now, and it keeps getting easier. Want a simple replacement for milk? Here's a list to get you started, but bear in mind that both soy and tree nuts can be potential allergens or problematic in some cases, so be sure to check with your doctor or qualified health care practitioner if you have any questions.
  • Almond milk - the unsweetened version is great for baking, quiches, cereals and puddings.
  • Hazelnut milk - try this for hot chocolate! Also good for cereal and baking.
  • Rice milk - this can be on the sweet side; it's easy to digest for many people and a good replacement for hot or cold cereal and in smoothies and other beverages.
  • mixed_fruit_smoothie
  • Soy milk - hands down, the most common replacement of all! It's sold in milk cartons on the dairy isle and in aseptic packages on the grocery isle. Unsweetened versions can be a little "beany" flavored, but many people find they get used to the flavor quickly and enjoy it for many different uses.
  • Oat Milk - great for hot cereals and custards but remember this is NOT okay if you are avoiding gluten!
  • Hemp Milk - good for baking and using in smoothies.
  • Coconut Milk - great substitute for milk or cream, try it for quiche, desserts, in pies, puddings, custards and cold on cereal. It can be a bit thick so you may want to try it thinned out with a bit of other non-dairy "milk.
coconut_ice_creamMany milk replacements are available unsweetened, sweetened and flavored. Start with the unsweetened first as some have a lot of added sugar. When it comes to cheese replacements, there are versions made with rice milk, almond milk or soy milk. Many have natural yellow coloring added to simulate real cheese. Because they can be mild in flavor, adding some spices or other ingredients can help pick up the flavor. Here are some uses for non-dairy cheese:
  • Make a grilled "cheese" sandwich. Add tomatoes and some spicy mustard or a sprinkling of nutritional yeast for a "cheesy" flavor.
  • Sprinkle over salads - great with dried fruit and nuts.
  • Try a pita pizza with non-dairy "cheese," tomatoes, mushrooms, onions and peppers.
  • Make an omelet with eggs that have been whisked with a bit of lite coconut milk. Top with shredded non-dairy cheese, olives and a dollop of guacamole.
  • Add to tacos or burritos. Spice it up with salsa or your favorite hot sauce.
You know you need those probiotics! Here's the dairy-free way:
  • Coconut milk kefir and yogurt - pretty new to the market; available in lots of flavors and naturally fermented for good probiotics. Use just as you would yogurt or kefir in smoothies, desserts or enjoyed plain. Try the plain version as a buttermilk replacement.
  • Soy yogurt and probiotic drinks - a little "beany" flavored if you're not used to it - so try the fruit flavored first. Use just as you would yogurt or kefir.
There's more:
  • "Cream cheese" made from tofu - spread on toast or bagels; use in dips and sauces.
  • "Sour cream" made from tofu - try on potatoes or in dips and sauces.
  • "Whipped cream" made from cashew nuts - great on pies or cakes or for a real treat, dollop a bit over hot coffee or non-dairy cocoa.
  • Coconut or soy milk creamers - for coffee, tea, chai, and other beverages, iced or hot. I like the coconut creamer (just a bit) over hot oatmeal in the morning.
  • "Parmesan cheese" made from rice - when tossed with a little nutritional yeast, you get a stronger cheese flavor. Try this with extra virgin olive oil over pasta or in salad. Also good sprinkled over soup and steamed or sautéed veggies.
  • "Ice cream" made from soy milk, rice milk or my favorite: coconut milk - these all vary a bit in flavor. Enjoy as they are or make ice cream-like desserts: parfaits, ice cream cakes, smoothies, etc.
blueberry_banana_smoothieExperiment to find what you like best - you'll be surprised at how easy it is go dairy free without sacrificing good taste. You'll find tons of dairy-free recipes on the recipe pages of our website. I like using the advanced recipe search so you can select "dairy-free" and then search by meal course, cuisine, main ingredient, etc. Please note that I've seen all of the products I mention here in at least one Whole Foods Market store, but our product mix does vary. If your local store doesn't carry a dairy-free item mentioned, simply ask if they can order it for you. Got a dairy-free dish you love or a favorite way to use a dairy replacement? I'd love to hear.




Sara Kruhmin says ...
Thanks for posting this. My husband and I made the switch from dairy to alternatives for health reasons about 6 months ago. Removing the dairy has helped our health. It seems like we find new alternatives weekly. Our favorites right now are unsweetened chocolate almond milk and vanilla oat milk - both are delicious for making smoothies and chai. I also discovered coconut milk and made a fettuccine alfredo with it - delicious! Please keep the alternative products coming!
01/25/2010 9:46:25 AM CST
Food Makes Fun Fuel says ...
Almond milk is by far my favorite in taste and texture for baking and drinking. Coconut milk kefir is AMAZING. I use it when I make chocolate avocado pudding and it comes out perfect everytime--thick and creamy
01/25/2010 10:01:08 AM CST
Donna Zurick says ...
Hope that the Boston stores carry the coconut milk items. I'm going to look for them! I try to limit soy due to thyroid issues, so coconut sounds wonderful!
01/25/2010 10:07:43 AM CST
Erin says ...
I was so excited when we found the coconut versions of creamer, milk, ice cream, and kefir. The creamer doesn't taste strange when mixed with hot coffee, the milk is delicious, the ice cream is OM NOM NOM, and the plain kefir has made me happy again- pour a cup in after you've made stew, and it tastes like you put in sour cream. We're all lactose-intolerant, and it's wonderful to have such fabulous alternatives. Totally, absolutely worth the price.
01/25/2010 11:07:58 AM CST
Brooke says ...
My son is allergic to milk and soy. While there are several rice options available, almost all use milk protein (casein or lactose)and are not a viable option for food allergies. I would love to see more options which are truly dairy free
01/25/2010 11:46:10 AM CST
A Pickett says ...
My spouse and I are both Type 2 diabetics, and unsweetened almond milk is a wonderful substitute for all kinds of uses. Current favorite is a "milkshake" with chocolate almond milk, plain non fat yogurt, splenda, a scoop of protein whey powder, vanilla extract and shaved ice. Many of the non dairy choices have carb counts to contend with, but I plan to investigate hazelnut milk.
01/25/2010 1:23:52 PM CST
Juanita says ...
I love So Delicious coconut milk yogurt and kefir! I never would have thought of using the kefir as a replacement for buttermilk in recipes. What a great idea, thanks!
01/25/2010 1:44:42 PM CST
Mimi says ...
I sensitive to milk, egg, soy, and wheat, but b/c of Whole foods, I can eat ice cream, pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate. I love rice milk, almond milk, coconut milk, goat cheeses - thank God WF carries mozzerella, cheddar and jack flavored goat cheese - like them better than the rice cheeses. I love the coconut ice cream as well, and the Wonder (name/spelling?) coco!
01/25/2010 2:09:38 PM CST
ABC says ...
I love the unsweetened Almond Milk in my coffee and cereal.
01/25/2010 3:12:48 PM CST
Chad says ...
The So Delicious Coconut Beverage is AMAZING!!
01/25/2010 4:17:22 PM CST
Bea Elliott says ...
Hello and thanks for pointing out the many tasty dairy alternatives... I eliminated dairy about 2 years ago because of animal concerns. I never realized my health would benefit as well. As a 53 year old in the height of menopause... I suffered severe "hot flashes" - Within 2 months of substituting alternatives to milk products... My symptoms all but disappeared. Turns out - It isn't all that wise to consume another species hormonal fluids at all! Another thing that improved was my skin... and the arthritis in my hands and knees also subsided - This along with desired weight loss has convinced me that eliminating dairy was the best thing for my health, as well as the treatment of animals. It's no wonder so many delicious alternatives are showing up on the shelves! :) Thanks for inviting comment.
01/25/2010 10:13:00 PM CST
Alisa - Go Dairy Free says ...
I will say Whole Foods does an awesome job in stocking the dairy-free products. Whenever there is a hard to find natural food product I want, it is there! As for dairy alternatives - two big thumbs up to almond milk and the new coconut milk beverage. I don't use many of the other alternatives with regularity, but the industry is becoming impressive.
01/25/2010 10:33:14 PM CST
NK says ...
I like the coconut and cashew dairy-free ice cream from Alkemie. They are in the Bay Area.
01/26/2010 3:45:44 PM CST
Kelsey J says ...
If you're looking for a great dairy free ice cream substitute be sure to try Arctic Zero "frozen dessert." It comes in flavors like chocolate peanut butter, strawberry, and maple vanilla. It's basically a frozen protein shake that taste great! Also it doesn't hurt that it only have 132 calories per pint! I know some Whole Foods stores already carry it, while some on the East coast won't be stocking it until May unfortunately...
01/27/2010 4:02:12 PM CST
Caroli says ...
I haven't had dairy milk for years. I love Silk in the chocolate flavor, either hot or cold. For my cereal and for cooking I enjoy Rice Vanilla milk. I also enjoy Tofutti sour cream and cream cheese. For yogurt I get O-Soy in various flavors. Yum! I enjoy any of the dairy-free ice creams, too. I don't miss drinking or using milk products from cows, but I do love to PAT cows!
01/27/2010 5:29:59 PM CST
Kimberly says ...
I recently developed dairy allergies (severe rash)and have switched to rice milk, which as stated is on the sweet side. It's almost like drinking rice pudding. But I am also allergic to carrageenan. I have yet to find a dairy free cheese that does not use carrageenan. I have not tried the almond milk because the brands I have seen in stores also use carrageenan ad a thickener. Carrageenan is a derivative of seaweed. So if you are allergic to shellfish, as I am, be very careful.
01/27/2010 7:12:50 PM CST
Mary http://www.mygreendiet.com says ...
I really like this post! I just watched an undercover YouTube video about the dairy industry and I am really upset about it. It was absolutely heartbreaking.
01/28/2010 12:56:39 AM CST
Tiffany says ...
I agree with Erin! The Coconut Bliss ice cream is probably my favorite "sinful" treat! If you're not into the coconutty flavor, the Mint Galactica is so minty, you can barely taste the coconut! It's definitely a delicious alternative!
01/28/2010 9:10:28 AM CST
Shannon says ...
I know that goat's milk is still technically dairy, but it is also a good alternative to cow dairy, and it actually tastes and works just like cow's milk.
01/28/2010 4:04:31 PM CST
Tara says ...
I have been going dairy-free for the last two weeks - I love the alternatives!!
01/28/2010 9:25:31 PM CST
Lisa says ...
01/29/2010 4:02:35 AM CST
Naomi says ...
Thank you! I'm a vegan so love new ideas for dairy-free alternatives. I like soy milk but these other 'milks' sound good too!
01/29/2010 3:33:06 PM CST
pat moore says ...
what do you think of goat's milk?
01/30/2010 12:34:20 AM CST
Christina says ...
I started having lactose problems while pregnant with our 3rd baby. I bought rice milk and almond milk and for me, hands down the 365 Rice Milk is wonderful! If you are used to something thick, try the almond. The rice milk is more "watery" like skim but still wonderful. (I used to drink 1%) I will say though, to use up the alond milk that I didn't care to drink straight up in a glass, I cooked with it and couldn't even tell a difference! Does anyone know if Rice milk can be sub'ed in a homemade icecream recipe?
01/30/2010 11:14:23 PM CST
Laura says ...
I tried the Coconut Milk Ice Cream NadaMoo and OMG!!! It is so creamy and delicious. The texture is rich and creamy like regular dairy ice-cream. Try the chocolate or the Java. It's so good!!!
02/01/2010 10:09:04 AM CST