Tuesday, 31 January 2012

There are alternatives - dairy free milk substitutes

So you can't have milk, but you might still want your morning breakfast cereal or something with your cuppa. Well there's no need for complete despair, there are alternatives! 

One of the main things to consider is the age of the individual involved. Some milk substitutes aren't suitable before the age of six months, two, three or even four years, so you need to read your labels carefully. 

Baby's choice:1+ by Alpro
You might also want to bear in mind whether your milk substitute needs to be enriched with certain vitamins. If, for example, you want your milk substitute to perform the same kind of role that normal milk would previously have carried out for you (by providing a considerable amount of your daily calcium allowance) you need to check the label. Most do, but organic versions won't, because they cannot call themselves organic, if they have added anything into the mix. 

Some also have vitamin D added. It is vital for your body to get enough vitamin D, in order to absorb calcium, so it could be worthwhile to make sure your milk substitute contains vitamin D as well. Some also have B vitamins, and so it goes on...

The good news is that there are all kinds of milk substitutes these days. The problem is that the choice could be bewildering, so let's take a look at the options:

Soya Milk
Perhaps most widely known and available - often offered in coffee shops etc. no good, however, if, like me, you have an intolerance to soya milk. Many people who can't have milk also have problems with soya. There is also some question mark over the use of soya by those who are pregnant or infants - soya contains a plant form of oestrogen, which it is thought might cause some kind of hormonal effect. More worrying for boys than girls apparently, but there nonetheless.

There are other associated risks, but reading around, it's tricky sorting out the fact from (quite frankly) the fanciful. The following article, from the BDA, is quite a helpful read.

One thing that does seem to be agreed upon, is that soya is not deemed suitable for children under the age of six months. Alpro produce a junior version (suitable from one year) that we now use for 'Baby'. This is the medical profession's preferred option for young children under the age of two, unless they are intolerant/allergic to soya. This is because it has the right amount of calories and additional vitamins, that are needed by very young children.

One of the major advantages of soya, however, has to be, that (as it has been around so long, as a useful milk substitute) manufacturers have found ways of developing yoghurts, cheeses etc. made with soya. You can also get it in various flavours and in smaller cartons, which are good for carrying around. So if you can tolerate soya, and don't depend too much on it, it could be a good option.

Rice Milk
Personally I think rice milk has a nasty after taste. It is a popular alternative but not considered suitable for children below the age of four and a half (and therefore not suitable for those who are breastfeeding either). This is due to the fact that rice contains a certain level of arsenic!! The arsenic comes from the soil in which the rice is grown. Yet somehow rice is generally widely consumed and is still considered safe as a first food for babies!! Read this article by the Food Standards Agency, for official advice. And then the following article, by Foodsmatter, for a more interesting read!

For those who can have rice milk, as well as the larger cartons, it also comes in handy smaller lunchbox-sized versions, which are good for travelling. They also come in variety of flavours.

Almond Milk
One alternative that is becoming more and more popular, is almond milk. I really like almond milk. Almond is a good natural source of calcium, so it makes good sense. It's also an excellent source of vitamin E. The good news, for nut allergy sufferers, is that almonds are not nuts - they're drupes and are related to the peach!

Ecomil, Blue Diamond, Alpro, Dairy Free Dream, and Rude Health all make their own versions of almond milk, but Ecomil's, being organic will not have any extra vitamins beyond those which are naturally present in the almond itself because you can't add vitamins to an organic drink - it immediately invalidates its organic nature). Rude Health's version will not be suitable for anyone avoiding rice milk (see section below), as it contains 14% rice milk. This isn't a huge amount, so you might regard it as okay, but that's entirely up to you!

Alpro's advice (aimed at those of us who have young 'uns) is that Almond milk is not suitable as a main milk drink for children under three, but can be used in cooking etc. Additionally, they state (unless they're organic, of course), that all Alpro milks contain vitamins B2, B12, and D as well as calcium.

Hazelnut Milk
Hazelnut milk has quite a distinctive nutty flavour. I like it in porridge, as it adds a kind of creaminess, which is missing in almond milk. Alpro is the brand leader in this one. Rice Dream also make a hazelnut milk, but it's unsuitable for anyone avoiding rice milk as rice milk is blended in with the hazelnut milk. As with almond milk, Alpro state that it is not suitable as a main milk drink for children under three, but can be used in cooking etc. 

Coconut Milk
Chocolate Kara
Made by Kara, it's OK, but I thought it left a slightly powdery taste on my tongue (but maybe that's just me). Kara's coconut milk is quite good used in custard and rice pudding. It's very popular with parents whose children are unable to have rice or soya milk. Kara's coconut milk contains calcium (250ml = 375% of RDA) and now vitamin D as well (it didn't used to). It is apparently cholesterol free. 

Handily, it comes in smaller cartons now, and in three flavours: Original, Chocolate and Strawberry, although the strawberry only comes in the smaller size. The chocolate version makes a very good hot chocolate once warmed!

Hemp Milk
Called 'Good Hemp' and made by Braham and Murray. I know it has lots of fans, but I tried this one once and am not a fan - it has a very distinctive taste. I'm guessing they've successfully removed the narcotic effects of the Hemp, though, as otherwise things could get a wee bit interesting! It's main selling point seems to be that, not only does it apparently contain calcium and vitamin D, it also contains omegas 3 and 6!

Quinoa Milk
Quinoa (keen-wah) is a type of grain. It was used by the Incas to strengthen their warriors, I believe. It's quite a good source of protein and is regarded by some as a sort of 'super food'. Made by Ecomil, we've only used this in making bread, so far!

Oat Milk
Oatly, are the brand leaders with this one, although there are now more oat drinks on the market. It was my personal favourite before my intolerance problems really began. Now that I can't tolerate gluten, this one is out for me - as it's not made with gluten free oats, which is a shame. 

It's not suitable for children under the age of two, as a main milk drink (unless advised otherwise by your dietitian), but can be used in cooking. I didn't get any nasty after-taste from it, but you do need to shake the carton really well before use as the mixture can separate. You can get a chocolate version (which isn't too bad) and they also do an Oatley cream substitute which is not unpleasant either (it's fairly thick, but thins somewhat, when it comes into contact with warm food).

In case you're wondering...
Goats milk and sheep milk are two substitutes to cow's milk that we've not tried - although people often bring these up in conversation, once they realise you have a problem with cow's milk! The reason that we haven't is because both of these contain proteins that are very similar to those found in cow's milk, so we're not going there! 

I have a friend who did rear her children on goat's milk (you can get it as a powdered formula in a tin from some supermarkets and good health food shops, it's called 'Nanny Care'), but I'm not prepared to take the risk of a bad reaction. Camel's milk and mare's milk are apparently much less allergenic, but I don't know about you, I've certainly not seen them on sale in any supermarket, just yet!

If you're from the States...
For the Americans among us, a comprehensive breakdown of milk substitutes available in the US, has been produced by the American nutritionist, Heather Bauer.

At the end of the day (having considered the options) whichever milk substitutes you end up trying, I hope you find one that you can enjoy with your cuppa and/or cereal!! 

And please... let me know how you get on!

More posts about milk substitutes can be found on our blog, under the heading 'Dairy Substitutes' which also covers yoghurt, cream and cheese!

1 comment:

  1. I too have noticed the warning on the Alpro Almond milk saying that it's not suitable as a main drink for under 3's. This was a bit disappointing as I was under the impression that (other than rice milk) milk substitutes were ok from 2. I don't suppose you know why they say this? My LO 2 and a bit and is still breastfed but is starting to request other milks to drink. We have tried the Alpro Soya 1+ and coconut milk with her but she seems to much prefer almond milk. And to be honest the Alpro Soya 1+ had a pretty horrible taste IMO - I certainly didn't like it on my cereal or even in my coffee.