Your guide to healthy cow's milk alternatives

Permaculture magazine
Sunday, 30th June 2013

Industrial cow's milk is as unhealthy for the human body as it is unsustainable for the earth. We explain the pros and cons of various alternatives.

"But what do you expect me to put on my cereal?!" – Is the common response given when you tell someone that moo milk just ain't no good for you. Aside from being an inflammatory food that most humans simply aren't evolved to digest properly, cows milk can be incredibly congesting, making you feel groggy and bunged up. We all know too well that it is fatty and simply not great for our planet too but embarking on a dairy-free diet can be quite difficult because milk goes in and with almost everything!

But there is one good thing about missing out on milk: there is such variety available and each substitute is good for you and your dish in a different way. Give some of the following a try:

Coconut milk

Creamy and thick, coconut milk is great in hot chocolate and sweet desserts. It is the only thing found in nature other than mother's milk to contain lauric acid, which will boost your immune system and help your body to fight disease. It is high in fat, yes, but good fat that is easily metabolised and research has shown that coconut milk can actually aid weight-loss. I don't mean the type from a tin that separates into thick sludge & water – you can find proper coconut milk in cartons at most supermarkets.

Oat milk

Oat milk contains folic acid which is essential for repairing DNA and great if you're feeling slightly anaemicas it will also boost your red bloodcell production. Oat milk is also high in vitamin E, an antioxidant famous for beautifying skin! Unfortunately, oat milk is full of carbohydrates so if that is something you are trying to avoid, this may not be right for you. The protein content isn't brilliant either so it's no good for cooking with but it's great on cereal or in a nice cuppa tea and making it is as simple as a regular bowl of porridge.

Almond milk

One of my favourites and I love a nice chilled glass au natural. Because it's made from almonds, this milk has all the health benefits you'd get from munching on a handful of nuts. It's rich in magnesium and manganese which help to create healthy bones and prevent depression and it's also full of selenium – another immune system booster that can help with your thyroid function. It has a high protein content so is great for cooking with but as it has a unique taste that is a whole other world from cows milk, it won't go with everything.

Hazelnut milk

Hazelnuts are delicious with chocolate right? And this has a high protein content so is perfect for chocolate desserts! Being a nut milk, it contains all of the health benefits listed above. It has less of a marzipan taste than almond milk and can be used in all sorts of culinary creations. When it's fresh and homemade, it is excruciatingly delicious and also cheaper than almond milk if you are living in a colder climate.

Hemp milk

You'll see hemp in all its forms lining the shelves of every health food shop. The reason it's the choice food for hipsters isn't just because of the striking resemblance to a familiar narcotic leaf! Being a seed milk, it contains an abundance of Omegas, it is protein rich and perfect for people with nut allergies. The hemp flavour isn't to everyone's taste but it is thick and creamy and great for cooking with.

Quinoa milk

Quinoa is a wonder-grain (actually a seed) full of nutritional qualities you'll find nowhere else; it's a great source of protein, containing all the amino acids for our dietary needs, it is also high in iron and calcium, the mineral that everyone is worried about missing out on when switching to a plant-based milk. Many people already use it as a gluten-free replacement and now you can use it for a dairy-free diet too. The taste is a bit musty and won't be to everyone's liking but it is pretty much as thick and smooth as cow's milk. It's not as readily available as some other milks but it is easy to make.

Flax milk

Flax milk is the latest substitute to hit the marketplace and it's a wonder that it took this long to happen – it is delicious! Flax is famous for being loaded with Omega-3s and if you drink a glass of this in the morning instead of swallowing fish oil, you'll get the same amount of nutrition without the nasty fishy burps. It also contains a concentrated dose of lignans – a type of plant oestrogen that is being researched for its breast and prostate cancer-fighting properties.

Goat milk

Renowned for its distinct taste, goats cheese is like marmite – you either love it or hate it. The milk, I'm afraid to say has the same goaty aroma that makes it so popular/unpopular. I'm a lover and prefer this to cow dairy any day. It is much easier to digest because it has smaller globules and is an excellent source of calcium, vitamin A & D, potassium and copper. What's more, goats are not hormonally treated and tend to live happy free-range lives, chomping only on flowery pasture.

Sheep milk

Sheep's milk yoghurt is just the best! You might end up preferring the taste of this to normal yoghurt and it is readily available in the supermarkets so you don't have to buy and feed a herd to have access to it. Mix with a cascade of raw honey and fresh figs for some probiotic goodness in the morning. The milk itself doesn't have a hint of goatiness and is probably the most similar to cows milk in taste, texture and has double the beneficial nutritional qualities... and the cheese is simply dreamy. It is a bit more fattening than cow's milk so this may bother some and it's not suitable for the strictly lactose intolerant.

Organic raw milk

From udder to mouth, this kind of milk does not go through the pasteurising process that destroys good bacteria along with vitamins C and B. Heating milk also changes the whole protein structure making it fattier and more difficult to digest. Unpasteurised milk is being hailed as the new miracle food, curing everything from IBS to eczema. It isn't easy to get your hands on and is illegal in many countries. You wouldn't want it from any old cow either – organic free-range or biodynamic cows are the healthiest.

AVOID: Soya and Rice milk

You may have noticed that soya milk and rice milk are not included in this list. While being popular alternatives to cow dairy, they both have pros & cons. Rice milk, although hypo-allergenic and having all sorts of nutritional benefits, has a high sugar content and can give you a spike in sugar which isn't great for anyone trying to regulate their energy patterns. Soya milk has a similar effect on the body, especially with some of these new flavoured versions. It is also a known bowel irritent and non-organic, GMO soya is having a terrible effect on our environment.

Cashew nut milk pros & cons

Cashew nut milk is delicious, higher in unsaturated fat and has so many other nutritional benefits. The only problem is, if you are buying it from a colder climate, it is not only hugely expensive for you but costly to the planet too so it's better to go for another nut milk unless you are lucky enough to be basking in tropical heat. 

Sources & resources

'What are alternatives to industrially produced cows milk?'

5 Natural Cures For Eczema



plaudee |
Sun, 30/06/2013 - 15:37
I would remove almond milk from this list also. Industrial (i.e., those used for almond milk) almonds tend to be grown in monocultures where bees are trucked in from sometimes thousands of miles away to pollinate the blossoms every February. The bees are woken up with high fructose corn syrup. Here's how Michael Pollan explains it:
Haylsquails |
Sun, 30/06/2013 - 19:12
Hi Plaudee, As with all of these milks or any food for that matter, if you go for non-organic, it's likely to be grown in an "unhealthy" monoculture. Even so, this is still better than factory farmed cows milk. Rather than avoiding almond milk all together, you could just buy organic, or if you want to know exactly where it comes from, it's fairly easy to make yourself. You soak the almonds for a couple of days, blend up, then strain. Almonds are a perfect addition to the warmer permaculture garden, they don't all have to be grown in monocultures! x
Annie Leymarie |
Mon, 01/07/2013 - 13:42
I'm surprised you write that "goats tend to live happy free-range lives". Most of the goat cheese and milk readily available come from goats kept in zero-grazing conditions - often even worse than cows, and that's awful! Same with ewes. See for instance here: To me it seems crucial to encourage the growing of nut trees in forest garden type situations - almond in the South, walnut, hazel... And yes, make your own almond milk! Also we need to grow quinoa, as well as hemp, flax, oats, etc. - stop importing it!