What are the alternatives if I can’t tolerate cow’s milk?

Nowadays, plant-based has become a popular trend, with many people opting for alternatives to cow’s milk such as almond milk, oat milk, soy milk and coconut milk. For people with lactose intolerance, plant-based milk can be a great substitute, especially in regions like Asia and Africa where lactose malabsorption is common, resulting in symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea after consuming lactose-containing food. 

However, it is important to consider, can plant-based milk truly replace cow’s milk?


Cow’s milk

Cow’s milk is a nutrient rich beverage. It is a good source of calcium, protein, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and other minerals like phosphorus and potassium, making it an essential food for strong bones. A 250ml glass of cow’s milk contains around 150 kcal, 8g of protein, 12g of carbohydrates and 9g of fats.


Soy milk

Soy milk is a great alternative to cow’s milk and it’s made from soybean and water. It is a good source of protein, with a glass containing 90kcal, 8g protein, 4g of carbs, and 4g of fats. Soy milk is a good choice for those managing weight, as it has lower energy and fat content compared to cow’s milk. However, it contains less calcium, so it is important to supplement it with other high calcium foods. 


Almond milk

Almond milk is a popular choice now, but it is not as nutrient-dense as almond itself.  A cup of almond milk contains 60 kcal, 1g protein, 1g of carbs and 3g of fats. Additionally, the price is higher than cow’s milk. Thus, it is not so value for money when it comes to the nutrition-wised. 

However, almond milk is a good choice for those on a “low-carb” diet and it has a mild taste, making it a great coffee companion. 


Oat milk

Oat milk is another rising star. It is made from oats, resulting in a higher carbohydrate and fibre content compared to other plant-based milk options.  A glass of oat milk contains around 120 kcal, 3g protein, 16g carbs and 5g fats. 

Oat milk has a thicker texture, thus is suitable for smoothies and coffee. It is also a good choice for those who have lactose intolerance, allergy to soy or nuts. 


Coconut milk

Coconut milk is made from grated coconut flesh and water. The making of coconut milk and coconut cream are basically the same, they are different in ratio. Coconut flesh to water ratio is 1:4 for coconut milk, whereas for coconut cream is 1:1, which results in higher fat content. 

Compared to other plant-based companies, coconut milk contains higher fat. A glass of coconut milk contains about 50 kcal, 5g of fat, 0g protein, and 2g of carbs. 

It has a unique aroma, but is so strong that it might overpower the taste of the beverage. However, it is best used in dishes like curry and tomyam!


Rice milk

Rice milk is not as popular in Malaysia but is common in countries like Taiwan and China. It has the highest carbohydrate content compared to other plant-based milk options and is rich in various Vitamin B. (don’t ever think all the milk is the same!)

A glass of rice milk contains 120 kcal, 22g carbs (it is more than a piece of white bread), <1g protein and 2g of fats. For people with diabetes, rice milk is not a good choice. 

Rice milk itself has a light rice fragrance and is used to make staple food like chee cheong fun and radish cake. 


Pea milk

Pea milk is also a lesser-known option but is a good choice for those looking for a plant-based milk with protein content comparable to cow’s milk.. Besides, it contains branched chain amino acids, which are very useful in building muscle. 

A glass of pea milk contains around 70 kcal, 8g of protein, 4g of fat and 0g of carbs. 

Its taste is milder compared to soy milk, making it a great choice for individuals who want to supplement protein but do not enjoy the taste of soy milk. Pea protein is often used to make protein powder suitable for vegetarians. 

Except nutrition-wised, there’s also many factors to consider when replacing cow’s milk with other plant-based alternatives. For example, the taste. The taste of plant-based milk can vary depending on the plant they are made from and the manufacturing process. For example, almond has a slightly nutty flavor, oat milk is slightly sweet and with a creamy texture while coconut milk has its own coconut’s aroma. 

Besides, the versatility of the milk. Cow’s milk is very versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes such as cereal, beverage, baking and cooking. Plant-based milk can also be used in many of these applications, but may have different results depending on the type of milk used and the recipe. For example, almond milk is not a good choice for basking because of its thin consistency, and soy milk may curdle when added to acidic ingredients such as lemon juice or vinegar.



In conclusion, while plant-based milk can be a good alternative to cow’s milk for people with dietary restriction, ethical concern and taste preference, it’s important to be aware of their nutritional content and versatility when making the change. 

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