Alternative Milk Eases Digestive Woes
Alternative Milk Eases Digestive Woes
For some, dairy-free milk is the best option. Find out whether goat's milk or other alternative milks would be best for you.
By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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People with digestive issues sometimes choose to go dairy-free. No more milk products from cows. But alternative milks offer a substitute that, for some, not only ease digestion but enhance health in other ways, too. “I do see a lot of folks for whom allergies get better, eczema gets better, headaches get better, and so on, if they eliminate cow dairy from the diet,” said Ryan Robbins, ND, a naturopathic doctor and adjunct faculty member at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle. Here's what you need to know about milk alternatives and digestive concerns.
Alternative Milk: Goat’s Milk
Goat's milk is often recommended as an alternative to cow’s milk, particularly as a bridge from breast milk for young children. And researchers at the University of California, Davis, searching for a remedy for childhood diarrhea, found that, when modified, goat's milk might do just that, though it was tested on animals, not children. The researchers "used genetically modified goats that produced more of a particular enzyme that is present in human breast milk,” said Elizabeth Applegate, PhD, a nutritionist at UC Davis. That enzyme, lysozyme, helps fight bacteria found in the gastrointestinal tract of young children that contribute to diarrhea. Even without genetic modifications, however, goat's milk might have an edge over cow's milk. It's a complete protein, as is cow’s milk, but it's slightly lower in lactose, which could be easier on the digestive tracts of people with lactose intolerance. The American Academy of Pediatrics cautions it is best for all babies to be breastfed for 12 months or longer, so you should not switch your baby to goat’s milk too soon, and should discussed the pros and cons of switching with your baby’s doctor before making a change.
Alternative Milk: Sheep’s Milk
Sheep also produce milk that people can drink or use to make cheese or yogurt. As with cow's and goat's milk, sheep’s milk is rich in proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. But also like goat's milk, sheep’s milk contains some lactose, making it an unlikely option for people with lactose intolerance looking for a better digestive option than cow’s milk. “People think of milk as an irreplaceable part of their diets,” Robbins said. But when picking an alternative milk, "I encourage them to think about what they need, dietarily."
Alternative Milk: Soy Milk
Soy milk is your best bet for a dairy-free milk alternative, according to Applegate. It shouldn't have the same digestive issues as cow's' milk, but "it is comparable in protein quality to goat's milk or cow's milk," something that's particularly important for children who are still growing and need these nutrients, she said. Robbins added that those that want their milk to contain calcium and vitamin D need to drink fortified soy milk or get the nutrients from other products. However, he noted, “soy has isoflavones, which are popular for women going through menopause” as they may play a role in reducing some symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes.
Alternative Milk: Hemp Milk
“The fattiest alternative milk is hemp milk,” said Robbins. People trying to lose weight as well as those trying to gain should pay close attention to the fat and calories in hemp milk, which is higher in omega-3 fatty acids than other milk alternatives, he said. “It doesn’t have any of the THC [a marijuana byproduct] that people think about when they think about hemp,” he said. “It’s not something that will get people high.” Additionally, hemp milk might be the closest milk alternative to cow’s milk in taste — perhaps because it's fatty and tends to seem thicker.
Alternative Milk: Almond Milk
Many people like the taste and feel of almond milk, especially as an alternative milk with hot or cold cereal. Besides their lack of dairy's potential digestive problems, plant-derived milks also can play an important part in anti-inflammatory diets. However, Robbins pointed out that nut-derived milks, such as almond and cashew, have the potential to trigger allergies. Almond milk also is not recommended as a milk substitute for children, according to Applegate. "Children can develop protein deficiency disease because their protein and essential amino acid needs are great," she said. In fact, she believes that almond milk should be used for flavoring, not as a true milk substitute.
Alternative Milk: Rice Milk
“Rice milk is the least allergenic milk,” said Robbins. “As a general rule, if people are dealing with a lot of allergies, I’ll recommend that they try rice milk.” But those with allergies may also develop allergic responses to alternative milks. One way to determine which milk alternatives best suit your digestive issues and also are least likely to trigger an allergy is to rotate through various types that appeal to you over the course of one or two months, carefully tracking any symptoms that you experience. Rice milk, like almond and soy milk, comes in a variety of flavors, including chocolate (or carob), vanilla, and almond.
Alternative Milk: Coconut Milk
On the plus side, coconut milk is a lower-allergen milk, Robbins said, but it may be a bit too watery for some tastes. If that's not an issue, though, you might find it to be a tasty alternative milk option that's easy on digestive concerns, too. Applegate noted, though, that coconut milk is not a complete protein like cow's milk or goat's milk. So, if you opt for coconut milk, be sure to include other high-quality protein sources, like eggs, in your diet as well.
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