The Lowdown On Non-Dairy Milk Alternatives

Here, the dish on non-dairy milk.

The demand for non-dairy milk alternatives has been growing in Canada, in part for reasons such as lactose intolerance, which increases with age, or dairy allergies. Milk alternatives have a few other things going for them. Shelf-stable brands can be stored in a cupboard, while others may be low in fat. Today, we can choose from not just soy and rice milk but also nut milks, like almond and macadamia, grain milks like quinoa and oat, even potato and hemp milks.

But non-dairy milk is often missing the protein, calcium, vitamins and minerals of regular milk.

“Choose one that’s fortified if you’re looking for specific nutrients,” says Kim Arrey, a registered dietitian in Montreal and author of The Complete Arthritis Health Diet Guide and Cookbook. “If it doesn’t contain much protein, you need to make sure you add the protein back in somewhere else in your diet.”

Dairy-free drinks may also contain additives, like thickeners or preservatives, or added sugar, especially if they’re flavoured. They can contain other allergens, which is a concern if, for instance, you react to nuts.

What’s in the box? We compared some alternatives. Many of the brands below offer other options such as flavoured and unflavoured, sweetened and unsweetened, or refrigerated and shelf-stable. If you’re not keen on the sugar content in a particular product, for instance, look for an unflavoured or unsweetened version.

Calculate your calcium
Non-dairy drinks are often fortified with the same amount of calcium as a glass of milk (300 mg). But if the product claims that it meets 30 per cent of your daily calcium requirement, check your age and check again. Your calcium requirement is higher as you age, so what counts as 30 per cent when you’re 49 won’t go quite as far when you’re 72. Here’s what you need.

  • Up to age 50 1,000 mg for men and women
  • Between 51 and 70 1,000 mg for men, 1,200 for women
  • Over 70 1,200 mg for men and women

A version of this article appeared in the September 2016 issue with the headline, “The White Stuff,” p. 54.