Exploring Milk and Dairy Alternatives

My wife struggles with digesting lactose.  We've tried almost every alternative out there and have come up with a few different strategies and favorite products. 


My ranking in terms of taste from best to worst.  A lot of the milk substitutes are flavored (vanilla, and chocolate typically) but in this list I'm evaluating their most basic form.

  1. Milk GlassCredit: By Stefan Kühn (Own work)Lactose-Free Milk -as close as you can get to the original
  2. Rice Milk - I think this is the most mild, very close to skim milk in my mind
  3. Almond Milk -  Nutty, but not overly so
  4. Soy Milk  - Pronounced and unique flavor
  5. Coconut Milk - one of my favorite smoothy makers.
  6. Flax Seed Milk - a little creamier than rice and soy it seems, but not necessarily in a better way
  7. Hemp Milk - Doesn't wow me.

I use lactose free and rice milk for everything I normally do with regular milk: on top of cereal, for cooking and baking, for smoothies and shakes.  Soups and sauces aren't as creamy when I use rice milk, but if you don't mindit being  a little runny, it gets the job done.

For the others, they mostly end up in smoothies or shakes or I'll drink them as is.  They're not the best for cooking because their flavors come through, but they will work. 

We often buy the flavored versions (usually chocolate, but look for egg nog at Christmas time) and whether flavored or not look for "organic" and "enriched" options.

In the past month we've seen our natural food store expand their selection to milk blends (quinoa chia seed, and coconut-almond) which I'm pretty excited about.

In our experience, there isn't much of a price difference.  If you shop at bulk stores like Costco or Sam's club you can save some money.  Some of the more obscure alternatives may only be found at natural food stores.  Ask if they offer crate discounts.

Finally, for a high level comparison of nutritional content and another view on taste of several alternatives to lactose laden cow's milk, I recommend the article from the Experience Life Magazine.

It covers soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, hemp milk, rice milk, goat's milk, and raw milk.  It doesn't cover lactose-free milk.


Ask anybody who is considering a lactose-free diet the thing they'll miss most, and they'll probably tell you cheese. For good reason.  To this day, I haven't found anything that comes close. So occaisonally we grab the gastrointestinal medicines and indulge in some gooey melted goodness.

I've only tried soy-based cheese alternatives. Soy based cheese lack a little in flavor, and they don't melt easy.  They come as singles or as shredded packets.  There was one with taco seasoning on it that wasn't oo bad for tacos.

I've yet to see cream cheese, or cottage cheese substitutes.  So we wither go without, or pay the price.

We are also keeping a close eye on some of the studies that show that the more processed soy is, the less health benefit it has.


The good news is that the lactose free ice cream alternatives are pretty darn good. There aren't as many options as milk, that I've seen.  But again, in order from best to worst, I like:

Ice Cream ConeCredit: By Steven Depolo

  1. Lactose Free Ice Cream - almost indistinguishable from the original
  2. Soy Ice Cream - rich, flavorful, especially chocolate
  3. Rice Milk Ice Cream - very close to soy
  4. Coconut Ice Cream - not quite as soft as the others.  Sometimes made with the coconut flesh as well.

Also, if you don't mind a departure from the classic ice creams, sherbet/Sorbet and its cousins are also delicious frozen desserts.

I'll add here that I recently saw a soy whipped cream.  haven't tried it, but good to know that it exists.


Tofutti makes a great sour cream substitute.  It works well with tacos, for making dips, and mixing with chili.  Again, this is a processed soy, so be cautious.


The most common butter alternatives are soy based.  But we've also found other oil based spreads that are pretty dang good.   I use them just as I would regular butter.  Earth Balance is my favorite.


My cousin switched to a lactose free formula and many of the issues she was having with her child went away.  He cried less and slept better.  The diet definitely was a factor.  The good news is that there are lots of soy-free, lactose-free, baby formula alternatives out there.  Experiment a little to see which one works the best for your child.


Restaurants are becoming more sensitive to special dietary concerns.  They often have alternative menus for gluten free or dairy free eaters. When in doubt, don;t be afraid to ask your waiter if there is any hidden dairy. Fast food is less substitute friendly, so your best strategy is going dairy free.  yes, that means no milkshakes and cheeseburgers.

One last piece of advice.  Don't see a lactose free diet as a burden, take it as an adventure.  Try to figure out the recipe for a cheese free pizza that will be the envy  of your friends.  Discover new cuisines and foods you've never imagined.  Good luck, and good exploring!

200 Best Lactose-Free Recipes: From Appetizers and Soups to Main Courses and Desserts
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For your own hand at lactose-free recipes, try one of these tasty recipes.