Most natural food stores have a wide range of dairy alternative foods from milks to ice cream.  These alternative products grew from the demand of consumers who are either dairy and lactose intolerant or vegan.  Over the last couple of decades, the varieties and types of dairy products has exploded.  Typically these products resemble traditional dairy products and are merchandised in the refrigerated dairy section or in the freezer.  Most of the alternative milks – soy, rice, coconut, and almond – are also packed in aseptic containers and merchandised on a grocery shelf.  Here are a few:

Dairy Alternative Milks

Soy Milk – is a beverage made from soybeans.  It is the liquid that remains after soybeans are soaked, finely ground, and then strained.  One cup of unfortified soymilk contains almost 7g of protein, 4g of carbohydrate, 4½g of fat, and no cholesterol.  Although soymilk supplies some B vitamins, it's not a good source of B12, nor does it provide a significant amount of calcium.  Manufacturers also offer fortified soy milks.  These varieties may include calcium and Vitamins E, B12, and D, among other nutrients.   Some people are allergic to soy and if so, they should choose another type of milk alternative.

Rice Milk – is a beverage made from brown rice.  It contains more carbohydrates than cow’s milk, but does not contain significant amounts of calcium or protein, and no cholesterol or lactose.  Commercial rice milk is often fortified with vitamins and minerals, including calcium, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B3, and iron.

Almond Milk – is made from ground almonds soaked in water for six to eight hours. The almonds are drained and then blended into water until the liquid acquires a consistency similar to dairy milk.  A cup of unsweetened almond milk contains 1g of fiber and protein, 30-40 calories, 2.5g-3g of fat, omega 3 fatty acids, and significant amounts of magnesium, selenium, manganese and Vitamin E.

Oat Milk – is typically made from steel cut oats and can be easily made at home.   A cup of oat milk contains about 4g of protein, 130 calories, 2.5g fat, 110 g sodium, 19g sugar, 2g fiber, and 24 grams of carbohydrates.  Oat milk has no cholesterol and saturated fats, is high in natural fiber and iron, along with vitamins and minerals including manganese, potassium, phosphorus, many B vitamins, Vitamins E and A.  Oat milk also contains several antioxidants.  People with celiac disease or gluten intolerance should avoid Oat Milk due to its gluten content.

Hemp Milk – is made from the seeds of the edible part of the hemp plant – the same plant used to make marijuana.  The seeds and resulting milk don't contain any THC delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component of marijuana.  It is made by pulverizing the seeds, blending them with water and straining out the solid residue.  Hemp milk contains omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids in a healthy three-to-one ratio.   Other nutrients include magnesium, phytosterols, ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, calcium, fiber, iron, potassium, phosphorus, riboflavin, niacin and thiamin. 

Coconut Milk – is made from a mix of the coconut meat and its water.  It is not the same as coconut water, which is the clear liquid inside young coconuts.  More like cream than milk, coconut milk is high in calories and fat per cup, unless it is the “lite” variety which trims roughly two-thirds the fat and calories without changing the flavor.  However, coconut milk contains more fiber than other milk alternatives and is a rich source of numerous minerals including magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, selenium, zinc and smaller amounts of Vitamins B, K, E, and C.

Dairy Alternative Cheeses

There is a large variety of alternative cheeses packaged in blocks, slices, and shreds.  They are available in different flavors and made from soybeans and/or rice.   Some of the popular brands include Daiya Foods, GO Veggie!, Teese, Tofutti, and Vegan Gourmet.  Many of the products are lactose-free, but they may contain casein.  Only cheese substitute products labeled “dairy-free” are reliably lactose-free, do not contain casein or any milk components and are considered vegan.  Customers looking for soy-free and gluten-free cheese substitutes are best counseled to look at the packages and their ingredients to make sure that the product states it is free from soy or gluten. 

Other Dairy Alternative Products

Butter – there are a few dairy-free butter alternatives such as Earth Balance and Smart Balance.  These products are not considered margarine because they do not have any hydrogenated oils, preservatives or emulsifiers typically found in most margarine.  Earth Balance also touts the absence of GMOs, artificial preservatives, artificial flavors, or artificial colors and are considered vegan and gluten-free.

Cream Cheese – Tofutti, an early entry into the diary alternative market, makes the most popular cream cheese alternative from soy beans in their “Better than Cream Cheese” product line.   The downside is that some of their products contain hydrogenated oils; so it is a better nutritional alternative to look for the “Non-Hydrogenated Better than Cream Cheese”.

Sour Cream – the most popular sour cream substitutes are made from tofu, such as Tofutti’s Sour Supreme.  Customers should be aware of hydrogenated ingredients.

Milk Creamers – are made from soy, coconut, almond and cashews from a wide variety of brands in many popular flavors.

Ice Cream – There are many dairy alternative ice cream-like desert products including choices made from soy, rice, coconut, and more recently hemp.


Words to Remember


Aseptic means sterile. An aseptic package is one that has been sterilized prior to filling, typically with ultra-pasteurized (sterilized) product. The resulting package is similar to a canned product and can be stored at room temperature on the shelf until opening.


Is a milk protein found in the solid part (curd) of milk that curdles which may contribute to allergic or intolerance reactions.