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Many people are moving towards dairy alternatives for a variety of reasons, including better health or to reduce their impact on the planet. One struggle people face when giving up dairy is how to replace everyday dairy products.

A woman frosts a vegan cake which is made with dairy alternativesShare on Pinterest
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In this article, we offer a guide to the best dairy substitutes, from alternatives to milk to coffee or cereal to replacing butter in a favorite recipe.

While many people still turn to a glass of cow’s milk to drink or add to their favorite recipes, others are turning to nondairy alternatives. Luckily, there are plenty of store-bought and homemade options.

A cup of whole milk contains approximately 149 calories, 8 grams (g) of protein, and 8 g of fat. It also contains nutrients and minerals that include calcium and potassium. Many suppliers also add vitamin D to their milk.

Similarly, some plant-based milks are highly nutritious, and many manufacturers offer products fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

The following options can be healthful replacements for cow’s milk:

Almond milk

Almond milk is a popular milk alternative because it is easy to make, cheap to buy, and many find it delicious.

A cup of almond milk contains approximately 39 calories, 1 g of protein, and 2.5 g of fat.

Almond milk does not have the strong flavor that some other plant-based milks may have, so it may be a good transition milk for many people to try.

Soy milk

Some doctors may recommend soy milk for people who are intolerant to dairy foods or looking to cut calories.

A cup of one of the leading brands of soy milk contains 7 g of protein, 4g of fat, and just 80 calories, meaning it provides almost as much protein as whole milk.

Soy milk may have a peculiar flavor for people who are not familiar with it. However, it comes in sweetened and unsweetened varieties so that a person can try different options.

Coconut milk

Coconut milk is naturally very fatty, which helps it provide the same texture as cow’s milk.

However, a cup of fortified coconut milk contains 74 calories and 5 g of fat, but less than 1 g of protein.

Many people use coconut milk in their coffee because of its creamy texture. Adding cocoa powder to heated coconut milk also makes a rich and creamy hot cocoa.

Rice milk

Rice milk tastes sweeter than other dairy alternatives. It is also more watery than other options, but comes in many varieties and can be a great replacement for milk in cereal.

A cup of rice milk contains approximately 113 calories, less than 1 g of protein, and just over 2 g of fat.

Other options

The above are the most popular alternatives to cow’s milk. Other dairy-free milk alternatives include:

  • oat milk
  • hemp milk
  • flax milk
  • cashew milk
  • tiger nut milk

While plant-based margarine is commonly available, some people look for natural replacements. These include:

  • Coconut oil: Coconut oil is an easy 1:1 replacement for butter in most recipes. Some people recommend heating the oil and adding a bit of salt to neutralize the sweeter coconut flavor.
  • Olive oil: If people use olive oil instead of butter, it is best to use it for sautéing foods or caramelizing them rather than for baking.
  • Avocados: Avocados are very versatile in the kitchen. Depending on the recipe, a ripe avocado may make the perfect butter replacement for baking. The avocado flavor tends to dissipate, leaving only the creamy, fatty texture, which can be perfect for baked goods.
  • Bananas: For sweet recipes, a ripe banana can also replace butter. Be aware that the flavor of the banana may change the taste of the treat.

There is a wide range of alternatives for cheese, including:

Soft cheese

Replicating the texture of soft cheese is easy. There are many plant-based versions of soft cream cheese on the market, which are usually made using soy or coconut milk.

These soft cheeses are just as easy to make at home. Soaking cashews nuts overnight and blending them with a bit of nut milk and lemon juice gives many people the tangy cream cheese flavor they want.

People can blend soft silken tofu with salt and spices to make a dairy-free nacho cheese. Adding chives and fried onions to the mix can turn it into a simple, vegan onion dip.

Thin slices of smoked tofu can also replace provolone cheese in a sandwich.

Hard cheese

The salty-sour taste of hard cheese can be difficult to replicate at home, but there are many store-bought cheese alternatives available in health food stores.

Crumbling hard tofu and baking it with salt and truffle oil can make an excellent topping for pasta or other dishes that may call for hard cheeses.

Nutritional yeast

Nutritional yeast has a nutty, cheesy flavor and many manufacturers fortify it with essential vitamins.

Nutritional yeast is a simple way to add a cheesy flavor to many dishes, including cheesy garlic bread and pasta sauce.

Dairy yogurt is a combination of milk, lactic acid, and bacteria. The process is the same for dairy alternatives. Many manufacturers of store-bought options use cultured soy, but some use other bases, such as coconut milk.

People can also purchase a yogurt-making kit and produce their own dairy-free yogurt. They can reuse the live bacterial culture many times to make new batches.

There are countless dairy-free ice creams on the market. Producers typically make them with nut milks, such as those from coconuts, almonds, or cashews. Dairy-free fruit-based sorbets are also available.

A person can also blend frozen bananas, vanilla, and a small amount of plant-based milk to make a simple vanilla ice cream at home.

Dairy milk is a rich source of protein and a very common source of dietary calcium. Many other plant-based foods contain these nutrients, but a person who is making the switch should make sure they are meeting their daily needs.

There are also some possible health benefits of going dairy free, including:

Avoiding symptoms of lactose intolerance

Most people naturally stop producing lactase, which is the enzyme needed to break down the lactose sugar in milk, once they stop consuming dairy.

According to one review, as much as 75 percent of the world’s population is lactose intolerant. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include:

  • bloating
  • stomach pain
  • diarrhea or loose stools
  • gas
  • stomach rumbling

For people who are lactose intolerant or sensitive to dairy products, switching to alternatives can help avoid symptoms and keep their digestive system healthy.

Some people are allergic to cow’s milk and can have a potentially dangerous allergic reaction to it. Anyone allergic to milk should avoid dairy products altogether.

Avoiding hormones and steroids

Some people eliminate dairy products to avoid the possibility of contaminants in milk, such as steroids or hormones.

A 2015 study noted that even small amounts of hormones and steroids in milk appear to pass on to the person who drinks it and could have unwanted effects on the body. The researchers call for more research on the topic.

Reducing cancer risk

A 2017 review found that vegans who do not consume any animal products, including dairy, had a significantly reduced incidence of cancer.

This may not be directly due to the lack of dairy in their diet, however, as vegans also avoid meat and eggs.

Addressing ethical concerns

Some diets or diet plans may look to eliminate all dairy products based on ethical reasons.

Vegans or some vegetarians may avoid dairy because they have concerns about the dairy industry’s effect on the environment or the impact on the animals involved in dairy manufacturing.

It is vital to understand that just because something is plant-based does not automatically mean it is healthful.

People should always check the labels of dairy alternatives to look for any added ingredients or other factors that may alter how healthful the food is. Things to be wary of include:

  • added sugars
  • added starch
  • thickeners, such as carrageenan
  • added flavoring
  • preservatives
  • lack of nutrients and minerals
  • lack of protein

While many products can replicate the flavor of a food or replace a dairy product in baking, a person should be certain that they are still meeting their nutritional needs.

There is a range of dairy alternatives to choose from, possibly now more than ever before. While these products are available in stores, some homemade versions may be just as tasty and have fewer additives.

Some of the dairy alternatives are available for purchase online: