Dairy milk is an excellent source of vitamin D, calcium and phosphorous.
“The average person can fill their dairy category with fat-free or low-fat cow’s milk. However, there are milk substitutes for those who don’t like cow’s milk or who have dietary restrictions,” said Stacy Getten, a Marshfield Clinic Health System registered dietitian.
Recommended dairy amounts
Average adults and children without dietary restrictions should include dairy for a well-rounded, healthy diet.
- 2-3 years old: 2 cup-equivalents per day
- 4-8 years old: 2-1/2 cup-equivalents per day
- 9+ years old: 3 cup-equivalents per day
Yogurt, cheese, pudding and soymilk satisfy dairy recommendations.
“Some people who are lactose intolerant may tolerate lactose in small amounts,” Getten said.
Your health and milk substitutes
If you leave dairy out of your diet, find a milk substitute fortified with calcium and vitamin D. If you’re basing your decision on allergies, use these guidelines:
- Lactose intolerance: Try soymilk.
- Nut allergies: Try cow’s milk or soymilk.
- Dairy, nut and soy allergies: Try rice milk.
Soymilk is the only milk substitute included in the dairy category because it has similar nutrition content: calcium and vitamins A and D.
“Choose an unsweetened soymilk and watch nutrition content. Some can be high in fat,” Getten said.
Almond, rice, coconut and hemp milks are typically good sources of calcium, “but they are not included as part of the dairy group because their overall nutritional content is not similar to dairy milk and fortified soy beverages,” according to Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020.
Rice and almond milks are lower in fat than coconut and hemp milks, Getten said.
Talk to your provider first
“If you do have allergies or a medical condition, I highly recommend you talk to your provider or a nutritionist before trying milk substitutes,” Getten said.