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What are the best non-dairy milk alternatives?

Lactose intolerance is a syndrome that occurs after the ingestion of lactose, with symptoms that include diarrhea, abdominal pain, flatulence, and bloating. These symptoms result from the secretion of catabolic fragments of bacterial fermentation of undigested lactose in the colon.

Unfortunately, most people are deficient in lactose enzymes, with as much as 75% of the world’s population being intolerant to ingested dietary lactose. People with lactose intolerance are generally more likely to tolerate hard cheeses, such as cheddar or swiss, than a glass of milk — not surprising, since a 43g serving of mature-hard cheese contains less than 1g of lactose, while a one cup serving of milk contains around 11g to 13g of lactose. Increasing the intake of lactose to anything above around 12 grams per day will most likely cause more intense symptoms.

So what are the best choices, and how do we know what’s best?

Rice milk is a dairy-free type of milk that is prepared with boiled rice, brown rice starch, and syrup. It often has added calcium, iron, and vitamins B, A, and D. Some of the health benefits of rice milk include improved skin health, strengthening of the bones, increasing energy, and supporting the digestion.

Cashew milk is made from a mixture of cashew nuts, or cashew butter, and water. It is rich and creamy and has a sweet and nutty flavor. It’s great for thickening smoothies, as a creamer in coffee, and for baking. As with most nut-based milks, the nut pulp is strained from the milk. During this process some of the fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals from the whole cashew are lost — so it would be more beneficial to eat the whole cashews, rather than drinking the milk. Nonetheless, cashew milk still contains high levels of beneficial nutrients, such as protein, fiber, magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, and vitamin D. Like most nuts and seeds, cashews are loaded with omega-6 fatty acids, which is why cashew milk is a rich source of essential fatty acids. Cashew milk is easy to digest, and is also rich in anacardic acid, a compound which can help prevent the growth and development of certain cancer cells. It also contains high levels of iron, which can help to balance healthy amounts of hemoglobin — the protein that carries oxygen throughout the body.

Coconut water is the liquid inside a coconut, while coconut milk comes from the fruit’s white flesh. Coconut milk can be thick or thin. When making thick milk, manufacturers grate the flesh of mature coconuts, then squeeze it through a cheesecloth to extract the liquid. Thin coconut milk comes from the squeezed coconut flesh left inside the cheesecloth, mixed with warm water, then strained through a cheesecloth a second time. Thick milk retains more fat than thin milk. Coconut milk has many health benefits, including positive effects on weight loss, heart health, and the immune system. It has MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) which will stimulate energy through a process called thermogenesis, or heat production. It can also can help reduce hunger. Coconuts also contain a lipid called lauric acid, which can support the immune system with its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. And coconut milk is also rich with vitamins and minerals too. If you’d like to make your own coconut milk then here’s a link to a recipe:

Not all non-dairy milks are equal, however, so do make sure to check the label and read the ingredients carefully before you buy. Many manufacturers will add emulsifiers, such as xanthan and guar gum, which have been linked to digestive problems and even weight gain. Xanthan gum is a thickening agent made by fermenting a yeast with corn or another sugar source that’s not only linked to digestive problems, but even colitis and more severe issues. Guar gum comes from a bean plant, which, even though it is a source of fiber, is very hard to digest in such a processed form.

I’d recommend you also always try to buy organic when possible, also non-GMO, unsweetened, and MSG-free. Look too for added nutrients like additional calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.


Ayda Ersoy is a nutrition and fitness director at The Diet Doc Hawaii. She can be reached at, or (808) 276-6892.
Source: The Garden Island

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