Dairy-Free Milk Guide

The Paleo diet avoids all types of dairy. Research supports this as dairy has been linked to poor gut health, systemic inflammation, nagging pain, and chronic disease. Many people, Paleo or not, choose to avoid dairy products altogether.

There are, thankfully, many delicious and nutritious Paleo-friendly milk alternatives.

However, not all milk substitutes are created equal or Paleo compliant. While some options are incredibly nutritious and healthy for your body, others have some drawbacks and some should be completely avoided. 

For more on dairy and the Paleo diet, read on here.

Paleo Milk Alternatives

Almond Milk

Almond milk is one of the most popular Paleo milk substitutes. It is made from almonds and water blended together, then strained through to remove any pulp to leave the creamy, milky liquid. Sweeteners, flavorings, preservatives and stabilizers can then be added

Almond milk has a fairly neutral, slightly nutty taste with a subtle sweetness that makes it nice with coffee. Almond milk has a smooth consistency and is white or off-white, depending on the brand or if you make it homemade.

Almond milk is easy to find and is generally the most affordable option, considering how many brands you can choose from.

Commercial almond milk may be nutritious due to fortification, but you won’t be reaping the benefits of eating almonds. One glass of almond milk may contain around 2% of the product total. Choose brands that contain higher almond content (4-6% almonds) or make your own.

What to look for:

The main ingredients are almonds and water. Look for almond milk with a higher % of almonds. Anything else is unnecessary, however, sometimes a little salt is added as a preservative.

Choosing organic products is preferable if you want to avoid pesticides. Many kinds of almond milk are sweetened, so make sure to check for added sugar. Most of the time, this is clearly stated on the front of the label.

Check for additives. Common additives include gums and carrageenan. These are used as a thickener and a preservative. Alternatives include guar gum and xanthan gum which should be avoided by people with corn allergies. To be safe, look for almond milk without additives. 

How to use:

Almond milk can typically be used in any recipe that calls for dairy milk except recipes that require canned coconut milk or a higher fat content. 

It goes well in coffee. If you enjoy making hot drinks at home, you can whip up a lovely latte with almond milk. It also works in golden milk with turmeric or chai tea.

You can buy almond milk in a shelf-stable formula. This should be stored in your pantry or an otherwise cool and dry place. You can also buy almond milk from the refrigerated section. This should be kept until it’s ‘best by’ date. After opening, it will spoil in around ten days.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is a Paleo favorite. There are two main types of coconut milk. The thick coconut milk often found in a can is made mostly with coconut flesh and liquid blended into creamy consistency; sometimes, water is added. Coconut milk drink found as a dairy milk substitute is made from both coconut and water. Sometimes, sweetener and additives are in the product.

Canned coconut milk tastes strongly of coconut. It is bright white in colour and has a consistency best compared to regular dairy cream. It can further separate into the even thicker coconut cream. 

Coconut milk drink tastes like coconut, but is far less concentrated. However, if you don’t enjoy the taste of coconut, it will be noticeable! It is white, can separate easily and develop a rather chalky texture. Coconut drink is often mixed with another plant-based milk for a subtler coconut flavour.

Coconut is a fairly healthy ingredient. The canned variety has a much higher concentration of coconut, therefore containing more of the benefits of the fruit itself. This milk substitute is rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) which have been linked to weight loss, may enhance exercise and have been shown to aid in managing healthy cholesterol levels by decreasing LDL and raising HDL.

Most milk substitutes are inherently low in carbohydrates, but coconut milk is an especially good choice because of its fat content. 

What to look for:

If you are buying canned coconut milk, look for plain coconut and/or coconut and water mixes. Do your best to avoid preservatives and stabilizers like carrageenan or guar gum. The higher the coconut content (50% or higher), the creamier and thicker the coconut milk will be.

Coconut milk drinks will have similar ingredients but with much lower coconut content. You should also look out for added sweeteners.

How to use:

Canned coconut milk is a pantry staple and great for curries, soups, stews, and many Asian dishes. It can also be used in place of cream in many recipes and is a great creamer for coffee – especially if you have a hand frother!

Coconut milk drinks can be used in place of dairy milk. You can also choose to dilute canned coconut milk with water to your preferred consistency and creaminess. 

You can make yoghurt out of thick coconut milk.

Canned coconut milk will last in a cool, dry place for up to two years. After opening refrigerated coconut milk, it will last for around ten days. 

Cashew Milk

Cashew nuts have long been used to make dairy-free cheese alternatives and cheesecakes and it makes sense to make a drinkable milk substitute from them too. 

Cashew milk is a blend of cashews and water and is similar to almond milk with a mild, nutty taste. Cashew milk is creamier and richer than almond milk and has a more milk-like consistency.

The processing of cashews to make commercial products strips the nut of all its nutrients. Some are added back in during the fortification process, but it simply is not as nutrient dense as some of the other choices. Although homemade cashew milk is much higher in calories, it is also much higher in nutrients. 

What to look for:

Cashew milk can be bought in the refrigerated section or as a shelf-stable version. Often, it is sold in a blend. The higher percentage cashew content will result in creamier, richer-tasting drink. Avoid added stabilizers and sweeteners and choose organic whenever possible.

How to use:

Cashew milk can be used in place of regular milk as it is quite creamy. It is interchangeable with other nut milks. Many people make yoghurt out of thick cashew milk.

Cashew milk should last in the fridge for 5-7 days. Homemade cashew milk will last around 4 days. Shelf-stable cashew milk shouldn’t be kept longer than a year.

Hemp Milk

A relative newcomer on the market, hemp milk is made from hemp seeds and is most similar to almond milk in both a light texture and mild, nutty taste.

Hemp is naturally rich in polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) which maintain much of their nutritional integrity during processing. Benefits include having antihypertensive, anticancer, antioxidant, anti depression, antiaging, and anti arthritic effects. The omega-3’s in hemp are essential to good health and may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties
Although most dairy-free alternatives are fortified with calcium, hemp seeds are naturally rich in this mineral. Hemp milk is also higher in protein than both almond and cashew milks.

Hemp milk is not always easily available and may be quite pricey. Making it at home can reduce the cost.

What to look for:

Like with other dairy-free milks, organic is best and try to avoid additives, oils, and sugars. 

How to use:

Hemp milk is very versatile and can be used in place of dairy milk in most recipes

Banana Milk

Banana milk is the newest product on the market and is made from bananas and water. It tastes like bananas, is pale yellow in color and is creamy and starchy. The distinct banana taste limits the uses of banana milk to sweet recipes.

Bananas are a great source of potassium which regulates blood pressure and reduces stroke risk. However, bananas are high in sugar which is important if you are watching your carbohydrate intake.

Due to limited availability, banana milk probably has to be homemade but this is easy and inexpensive to do.

What to look for:

Watch out for the standard additives as the only real ingredients needed are bananas and water, and most products contain a lot more sugar and usually added protein. 

How to use:

Banana milk probably has the most limited uses of all dairy-free replacements due to its sweet taste. It fares well in desert recipes or as a milkshake base.

Homemade banana milk will last in the fridge for around two days. You can keep an open container of banana milk for around five days.

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What To Avoid

Read ingredient lists carefully. Keep an eye out for fillers, added sugars, and chemical preservatives in any store-bought dairy substitutes. Don’t be fooled by “unsweetened” or “sugar free” on the package: this does not mean that the product is Paleo-friendly! 

The following non-dairy substitutes are best avoided as they are NOT Paleo

  • Soy milk. Soy is not Paleo, and neither is anything made from it.
  • Rice milk. Brown rice is not Paleo (white rice is a grey area food) and is what goes into most commercial rice milks.
  • Oat milk. Oats are a grain.
  • Pea milk – This is made from yellow peas which are a legume

Ultimately, you might find it easier to just make your own instead of trying to track down something in a store 

Most people who switch to Paleo still find that they don’t use dairy substitutes as much as they used to use dairy. These suggestions will help make dairy-alternatives work for those times you really want them!

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