Ditching Dairy: Alternatives to Milk

Dairy alternatives are becoming more and more popular. Whether you’re a vegan, have an allergy, or are trying to reduce your intake of animal products, there are dairy alternatives that may be appealing to you.

Dairy Nutrition

Dairy products have essential nutrients, including calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin D (in products fortified with vitamin D), riboflavin, vitamin B12, protein, potassium, zinc, choline, magnesium, and selenium. Milk is America’s number one source of calcium, potassium, and vitamin D – nutrients that many Americans struggle to get enough of. When thinking about alternatives to milk. think about the nutrients you’d miss out on if you stopped drinking dairy. 

Dairy Alternatives

With the exception of unsweetened, fortified soymilk, plant-based milks are not a recommended substitute for a serving from the dairy group. Soymilk provides protein and can be a source of calcium and vitamin D when fortified with these nutrients, meaning it has a similar nutrient composition to dairy milk. 

Other milk alternatives like almond, rice, coconut, and hemp do not have the same nutrients as dairy milk. Typically, almond, oat, coconut, and hemp milks are lower in protein than dairy milk. When unfortified, they also have less Vitamin D than cows milk. 

Keep an eye on the Nutrition Facts Panel when choosing which milk is right for you. Look for milk that is unsweetened and fortified with calcium and Vitamin D. If you’d rather choose alternative milks that don’t supply these nutrients, you can plan to get more from the rest of your diet. Choose foods that are good sources of protein, calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin A.

Getting Creative with Calcium and Vitamin D

  • Find cereal that is fortified with calcium.
  • Try out canned salmon instead of tuna in sandwiches.
  • Get in more dark leafy greens like collard greens or bok choy. You could serve them as a side dish or mixed in casseroles or soups.
  • Stir sliced figs and almonds into oatmeal.


Written by Rachel Caty, MPH, RDN, LDN