alternative milk

Lactose intolerance (or dairy intolerance) may seem like it’s becoming a more common digestive problem, but it’s actually always been fairly pervasive. While less than 5% of the UK population is affected, up to 50% of the populations of South America, Africa and Asia suffer from it. 

It’s caused when a person doesn’t have an enzyme called lactase, which breaks down the natural sugar found in animal milk and milk products, such as yoghurt and cheese. Common symptoms include bloating, stomach pains or cramps and feeling sick, and usually occur shortly after consuming a food or drink that’s high in lactose.

As we get better at diagnosing such intolerances, the number of alternatives in the shops and the number of people drinking them is rising. Now, I’m not lactose intolerant, but I’m a big advocate of mixing up the diet, so I’m a big fan of oat, rice, soya and nut such as almond and hazelnut, due to the different flavours that each can offer. You don’t need to be lactose intolerant to appreciate them!

Most alternative milks are now fortified with calcium (which helps build strong bones and teeth, and ensures that blood clots normally) and vitamin D (which is important for encouraging the absorption of calcium from food) so they have many of the benefits of normal milk.

Here are my tips on which to use and when, as well as a lovely, easy recipe for homemade almond milk.

Soya milk

My go-to milk alternative in coffee is soya milk because I love the creamy flavour that it offers and its low fat content.  According to Cancer Research UK, some studies have found that the high levels of soy products eaten by Asian people could help to reduce the risk of some cancers, but the smaller amounts eaten by Western population are unlikely to have any major benefits.  Commercial soya milk is available in both sweetened and unsweetened varieties, so always opt for the sugar-free carton where you can, so to avoid the extra calories.

Rice milk

Commercial rice milk is typically made up of about 14% rice, with the rest being a little oil, salt and water. I find rice milk too watery to add to tea or coffee, but I do like it straight up as it is naturally sweet and low in fat at just 1%.

Hemp milk

Milk made from hemp seeds is also becoming more commercially available now.  What’s brilliant about that is that a 250ml serving provides 50% of our recommended daily intake for omega-3.  Omega 3 is important to maintain a healthy heart and reduce the risk of heart disease when eaten as part of a healthy diet, but there is evidence to suggest that such vegetarian sources of omega 3 may not have these same health benefits as those in oily fish. As ever, this supports the idea that a healthy balanced diet eating from all the food groups in the right quantities is the best diet to follow to ensure that you’re not missing out on any nutrients.

Almond milk

Almond milk is really tasty, with a subtle nuttiness and a light texture. Even though different types of milk are widely commercially available now in supermarkets and health food shops, they are often still quite expensive. Almond milk in particular is often over £3 a litre, but luckily, it’s really easy to make your own at home.

Basic almond milk recipe

Simply soak a cup of almonds in water overnight, then peel, rinse and drain them.

alternative milk

Blitz in a food processor with four cups of water and a few stoned dried dates or a little agave nectar or honey if you would like a little sweetness.

alternative milk

Drape a muslin cloth over a wide jug or bowl and pour the mixture through.

Once it’s all in the muslin, squeeze the milk out of the bag carefully and keep back the leftover pulp, which can be dried and pulsed even more in a food processor and made into almond flour to use in baking.

alternative milk

It’s then ready to use! The milk will keep in the fridge for a few days, but stir just before each serving, as it will naturally separate over time.

alternative milk alternative milk alternative milk

This recipe is only a principle – once you’ve got it down you can use most kinds of nuts and even seeds. One of my favourites is making hazelnut milk for Jamie’s date shake to make a fruit-and-nut smoothie!

Make sure to check out our other awesome special diets-related stuff here.


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  • петя спасова

    thank you laura for the recipe i just love it…

    • jamieoliverdotcom

      Great! Enjoy! x

      • петя спасова

        im happy to hear it from you laura…

  • Ronnie García

    This is great information. I have recently given up on cow milk because I suffered from gastritis and since then it doesn’t sit well in my stomach anymore and I feel much better. I have gotten into oat milk, it tastes much better than soy milk in my opinion and it’s so healthy for your stomach, foremost those who have digestive problems. Oats are great.

    • jamieoliverdotcom

      Pleased to hear you have found an alternative that you enjoy and that works for you Ronnie!

  • Pat Poole

    Very interesting. However, an allergy or an intolerance to dairy products is not solely caused by lactose, other triggers such as the protein casein are just as common. This does need to be pointed out, as people who have an allergy to casein (like me) can’t consume bought products advertised as lactose-free. Other than that, great stuff!

    • Dorthea Marguerithe

      Rigth u r Pat Poole – its the same for me and soy proteins are just as bad. Luckily i seem to do okay on almond and coconutmilk ;)

  • Margaret Ping

    OK I accept this but hate alternative milk!! At the moment we are aboard out yacht in Turkey and I only buy pasteurized milk to use but hubby likes UHT!! I thought this was bad for you because of the way it is treated??? Can you tell us your thoughts please X

    • Aaliyah

      I live in Jordan and the only milk I can get (that doesn’t go bad the same day) is UHT. I still haven’t got used to it. Ick. Further research on a better source needed! And don’t get me started on trying to get hold of real cream…

  • zenitude00 .

    Great article but one piece of information is missing. Several members of my family have an allergy to both the lactose in the milk as well as the protein in the milk. We cannot consume any products that say lactose free.

  • Emma Raven

    Laura and Jamie, if you look up agave you will find it is extremely high in fructose, the sugar that can’t be turned into energy but instead is converted into visceral abdominal fat – creating the ‘apple shape’ that increases our risk of heart disease and diabetes. Ordinary raw sugar contains less fructose and would be my preferred option.

    • jamieoliverdotcom

      Adding a little sweetness to your milks with the use of a little natural sugar, e.g. honey, agave syrup, or even whizzed up with a banana or some fruit, is fine as long as you don’t go overboard, a tsp is fine. You can eliminate this if you wish. We always recommend people stick to the reference intake of sugar (90g a day) and are aware of how much added sugar is in the food they are eating.

      • Emma Raven

        That’s a silly and somewhat insulting answer, you should have just said thankyou for your comment or not replied at all.

        • http://whatpixieswear.com/ Sabrina

          I think it’s just an answer by someone who isn’t afraid of certain food groups. Or badly conducted studies that try to convince people that fructose is bad.

          • Emma Raven

            Wow, more insults, and from ignorance posing as science too. Don’t bother to reply as I’m about to unsubscribe from this site. I don’t like nastiness. When you’re 55 with a 60 inch waistline and diabetic I’ll know you’ve held firm to your belief that agave syrup is ‘healthy’.

          • Aelfgifu

            Good. Now that you’re gone, the site is no longer nasty.

        • Aelfgifu

          Jaime Oliver’s team knows what they’re talking about. You don’t have to be nasty just because they don’t read the same ignorant blogs you do.

  • Mara Wynn

    Thanks for the tips..but concerned about Soy products because, at least in the States, most soy is GMO.. What is you take on GMOs. The more we read about GMOs the less we want to contribute to that market..many many health, environmental and ethical issues with big-ag companies and their takeover of seeds.

    • Aelfgifu

      Ninety percent of soy that is GMO in the US is used in animal feed. The rest is used for soybean oil in processed foods.

      I’ve never seen non-organic soy milk on the shelf. If you’ve seen it, it’s still a rarity. Just pick up the standard organic soy milk that’s right next to it.

  • Mariana Rezende Oliveira

    She’s talking about lactose INTOLERANCE, not ALLERGY. They are two different things. Intolerance is caused by lactose, and allergy, by the protein. Intolerance can be eased by ingesting lactase pills before eating dairy products, but that doesn’t work for allergy.

  • Rick

    Laura, Thank you for the information. Making almond milk and using the rest for flour is interesting. I’m generally not into wasting food, finding milk replacements, or fake meat; generally, the less processing the better. Regarding soy milk: I’m disappointed to see you taking a broad possible benefit on a food eaten in a variety of ways in the Asian culture and linking it to another derived product that worldwide is becoming more and more genetically altered, in the US it’s 90% GMO. I’m hoping a professional nutritionist would investigate and correct this. Thanks again.

  • Sirpa Grob

    Do I really have to peel the almonds? Why? I have made the milk with the peel until now… How about nut milks? Do I have to peel beforehand? Thank you! :)

  • Annalisa

    I’m lactose intolerant. I can use lactose-free and dairy-free products, but in small quantity only. I can use sheep and goat products, but I eat small quantities as well. I was forced to consume soya, rice, etc products and now I struggle with them

  • Sarah Farquhar

    as an article titled ‘The complete guide to alternative milks’ it seems to be lacking a lot of information.
    my son is allergic to dairy, a completely different thing to a lactose intolerance.
    he is not able to use soya as many people with dairy issue can’t
    he can’t use rice milk as it is not recommended for under 5s
    we have been advised to avoid nuts
    so like many others he uses Oat milk

  • Tessa Sparrow

    Don’t you love a recipe that says “simply…” and is anything but?

    • Aelfgifu

      Soaking almonds, blending them, and straining them is about as simple as it gets.

  • Ty Fairbrother

    Good to see that Jamie Oliver is helping to educate the world!

    From reading the comments below it seems clear that this article is a little lacking. It is a great start though!

    I would like to highlight the term “normal milk”. What is normal about drinking the secretions of another animal? Cows milk is designed for cows, by cows. It is designed to turn a tiny calf into a massive cow. Humans are the only species that drink the milk of another animal on a regular basis.
    There is also research suggesting that majority (around 75%) of the worlds population are “lactose intolerant”. Not by the fault of our genes or anything new. It is a natural part of growing up, that we humans actually lose the ability to process lactose after we stop weaning. Most people do not associate a little bloating or cramps with dairy products until they switch to an alternative.
    What about calcium I hear you say? It is good to see that most of the alternative milks are fortified with calcium, however, on many cases, the Vitamin D fortification is actually animal derived. Be careful with that :)

    You can Google all this if you do not believe me :)

    Also check out Cowspiracy..

    Personally I prefer Rice and Oatmilk. Soy (non GMO) is good with coffee!

    • jamieoliverdotcom

      An allergy to Cow’s milk or lactose intolerance is one of the main reasons why people follow a dairy-free diet. A Cow’s milk allergy allergy is where your body produces an immune response to one of the proteins present in cow’s milk, this could be to either albumin, casein or whey. As you say, lactose intolerance is quite a common digestive problem, in which the body is unable to digest the sugar lactose that is found mainly in all animal milks and dairy products. Levels of intolerance vary from person to person – in severe cases, lactose must be removed entirely and will need to be replaced with additional vitamin D and calcium supplements.

      To ensure you’re getting both vitamin D and calcium in your diet, try to include products such as cereals, margarine, and non-dairy milks, such as soya and rice milk, and make sure the milk you buy is fortified to avoid deficiencies. Calcium can also be found in pulses, bread (by flour fortification), sesame seeds and dried fruit. Please note that the most natural way of boosting your vitamin D intake is through exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D is especially important for young children –they may need to take supplements if they’re not consuming enough through their diet – seek advice from your doctor if you’re concerned.

  • Eiliki Kumm

    Peeling the almonds for almond milk is not absolutely necessary. Leaving the peels on doesn’t make big difference, the colour of the milk will just be more of a natural white colour. I always only soak, blend and strain, and that’s really simple.

    • jamieoliverdotcom

      You can indeed! It’s great to try different variations and techniques and see which you like best.

  • Aelfgifu

    Natural News is a pseudoscientific fraud website. You won’t find any credible information from them.

    Your link to the Scientific American article is broken, so we can’t access it.

  • Judy Abraham

    try lactose free milk , cream ,cheese !