Comparing dairy free milks

More and more people are choosing a dairy free diet and, in response, the range of dairy free milks is growing. But there’s more to dairy free milk than just the taste. Many dairy-free milks are low in saurated fat, cholesterol-free, packed with vitamins and calcium. Some are even lower in kilojoules than similar dairy milks.

It’s important to consider the nutritional value of each product in the context of your overall diet.

Why go dairy free?

There are many reasons people choose to go dairy free.

Lactose intolerance

Some people can’t digest lactose, a type of sugar found in dairy milk, because they don’t have enough lactase, which is a digestive enzyme, in their gut. Poorly digested lactose can cause bloating, gas, tummy pain and diarrhoea. In this case, it’s best to avoid all foods containing lactose, including cow’s milk, soft cheeses and some yoghurts.

Milk allergy

Some people experience an immune reaction to the proteins in dairy milk. They can also have stomach pain or diarrhoea, but may also get a skin rash, have breathing difficulties, vomiting or hives. A milk allergy can be far more severe than lactose intolerance, and it can even be life-threatening. If you believe you have a milk allergy, it's essential to consult your doctor.

Ethical and environmental

Many people choose to avoid dairy products because of ethical and/or environmental considerations around the way they are produced.

What dairy free milks are available?

Many of the wide variety of dairy free milks available are great with cereal, in smoothies, meals, hot drinks, creamy sauces, custards and desserts.

Soy milk

- contains more protein than most dairy free milks. Most soy milk brands are also fortified with similar levels of calcium to dairy milk. Some, including Sanitarium’s, also contain vitamins D, B2 and B12.

Almond milk

- lower in kilojoules than dairy milk, and also low in saturated fat. It has lower amounts of protein than soy and not all brands contain similar levels of calcium to dairy milk. Varieties with no added sugar are also available.

Coconut milk

- has higher amounts of saturated fat (from the coconut) and compared to many other dairy free milks, is lower in calcium and protein.

Rice milk

- most brands are fortified with calcium. Rice milk is low in saturated fat, but also low in protein. It also tends to have a high level of natural sugar, almost double that of soy milk.

Oat milk

- low in saturated fat but it also has lower protein. Not all oat milks are calcium-fortified and may not be suitable for those sensitive to gluten.

Lactose-free dairy milk

- cow’s milk with the lactose removed through processing. It still contains all the nutrients of cow’s milk – including calcium and protein – but is unsuitable for those with a milk allergy.

What to look for on the pack?

Calcium

When you reduce your intake of dairy milk, you could risk running low on calcium, the major “building block” for your bones. So as a guide, choose dairy free milks that are fortified with about 300mg of calcium for every cup (250ml) – this will help you meet more than 30% of your daily recommended dietary intake in each serve.

 

Milk alternative

Quantity

Calcium content

Dairy milk, low fat*

1 cup (250ml)

273mg

Soy milk, regular, calcium-fortified (Sanitarium So Good Regular)

1 cup (250ml)

400mg

Soy milk, low fat, calcium-fortified (Sanitarium So Good Lite)

1 cup (250ml)

300mg

Almond milk, calcium-fortified (Sanitarium So Good Almond Milk, Original)

1 cup (250ml)

300mg

Coconut milk, (Sanitarium So Good Coconut Milk, Unsweetened)

1 cup (250ml)

188mg

*Source: NUTTAB 2010, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.                                                         

If you’re looking for more variety, most supermarkets stock dairy free yoghurts, cheeses and ice creams. Don’t forget to also fill your diet with other calcium sources, including calcium-fortified breakfast cereals, tofu, soy beans, almonds, figs and leafy green vegetables.

Protein

Dairy milk and other dairy products can be an important source of protein. Where possible, choose dairy free milks with higher protein levels, especially for children under 5, or if you’re vegetarian or vegan.

 

Milk alternative

Quantity

Protein content

Dairy milk, low fat*

1 cup (250ml)

9.5g

Soy milk, regular (Sanitarium So Good Regular)

1 cup (250ml)

8g

Soy milk, low fat (Sanitarium So Good Lite)

1 cup (250ml)

7.8g

Almond milk (Sanitarium So Good Almond Milk, Original)

1 cup (250ml)

1.4g

Coconut milk (Sanitarium So Good Coconut Milk, Unsweetened)

1 cup (250ml)

0.5g

*Source: NUTTAB 2010, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.

Vitamin B12

Vegetarians and vegans can be at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. The daily recommended dietary intake for vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms (the symbol on packs is µg) per day.

The B12 from fortified dairy free milks is well absorbed, so drinking or cooking with them is an easy way to make sure you’re getting enough. If you feel your B12 intake may still be too low, a daily supplement may be a good option. Speak to your doctor or dietitian if you’re unsure.

Milk alternative

Quantity

B12 content, micrograms (µg)

Dairy milk, low fat*

1 cup (250ml)

1.5

Soy milk, regular (Sanitarium So Good Regular)

1 cup (250ml)

1

Soy milk, low fat, (Sanitarium So Good Lite)

1 cup (250ml)

1

Almond milk (Sanitarium So Good Almond Milk, Original)

1 cup (250ml)

1

Coconut milk (Sanitarium So Good Coconut Milk, Unsweetened)

1 cup (250ml)

0

*Source: NUTTAB 2010, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.

Fat and saturated fat

If you’re worried about your energy intake or cholesterol, choose dairy free milk alternatives that are lower in kilojoules and saturated fat, but still high in protein and calcium. As a guide, low-fat milks have about 1.5g of fat or less per 100ml. Keep in mind that low-fat varieties are unsuitable for children under 2.

Milk alternative

Energy (kJ) per 100ml

Total fat per 100ml 

Total saturated fat per 100ml

Dairy milk, low fat*

212kJ

1.2g

0.8g

Soy milk, regular (Sanitarium So Good Regular)

273kJ

3.5g

0.4g

Soy milk, low fat (Sanitarium So Good Lite)

171kJ

0.9g

0.1g

Almond milk (Sanitarium So Good Almond Milk, Original)

123kJ

1.4g

0.1g

Coconut milk (Sanitarium So Good Coconut Milk, Unsweetened)

142kJ

3.4g

2.2g

*Source: NUTTAB 2010, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.

Try different products

The best dairy free milk for you will depend on your overall diet and the amount of calcium, protein, B12 and fat you're getting from other foods.

You could consider a variety of dairy free milks for different purposes – such as soy milk on your cereal for extra protein and calcium; almond milk for smoothies; and coconut milk for baking or tasty desserts. This can keep your meals interesting, tasty, nutritious and fun!

References

  1. National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. Calcium. [Internet] 2014 [cited 2016 August 5]; available from: https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/calcium

  2. Food Standards Australia and New Zealand. NUTTAB 2010 Online Searchable Database. [Internet] 2010 [cited 2016 August 5]; available from: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/nutrientables/nuttab/Pages/default.aspx

  3. National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. Vitamin B12. [Internet] 2014 [cited 2016 August 5]; available from: https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/ca

  4. Choice. Milk alternatives buying guide. Dodging dairy? [Internet] 2014 [cited 2016 August 5]; available from: https://www.choice.com.au/food-and-drink/dairy/milk/buying-guides/milk-alternatives

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