If you’re struggling to give up dairy and make the switch to Paleo, we’ve got a list that’ll ease your worries.
From luscious and rich coconut milk to nutty and mild nut and seed milks to tangy camel milk, we’ve got the lowdown all the Paleo alternatives to cow milk and the best ways to use them in your kitchen every day.
Get tips on making creamy soups and sauces with coconut milk, on whipping up a delicious glass of vanilla-caramel almond milk to be enjoyed on its own, and even how to make an ice cream cake with camel milk. Finally, we’ll break down the health benefits of each, so you can make informed decisions about what you’re consuming. Enjoy your non-dairy milk mustache!
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Coconut Milk Benefits
Coconut milk is a staple milk of choice for many a Paleo dieter, and for good reason. Coconuts are extremely nutrient-dense, with a nearly 92 percent saturated fat content and a high level of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTS). While mainstream “fat is scary” nutrition will say that saturated fat is unhealthy, those found in coconut differ greatly from those of animal origin. According to a 2006 study on coconut fats consumed by the Sri Lankan population, coconuts are easily metabolized by the body for energy because their medium chain fatty acids do not undergo degradation and re-esterification processes. (1)
Coconut milk is made by blending coconut meat and coconut water, simmering, and then straining out the pulp (occasionally, a small amount of sweetener like honey or maple syrup can be added). The healthiest coconut milk is that which you can make yourself, retaining all of the healthy fats and keeping the product as minimally processed as possible.
What to Look for When Buying Coconut Milk
More commonly, coconut milk is purchased by the can, but be judicious about your purchases. Many, if not most, brands of coconut milk include non-Paleo additives, especially the “light” versions, where most of the natural product has been replaced with artificial sweeteners and stabilizers (and more water – why pay for more water?).
Some natural foods stores and grocery stores carry a thinner coconut milk in the refrigerated section meant to more closely mimic traditional dairy, but be wary of brands with too many non-Paleo approved additives.
Coconut cream – not cream of coconut, a cloyingly sweet, non-Paleo cocktail mixer – is another derivative of coconut milk commonly found on the Paleo diet. Coconut cream contains a higher ratio of coconut meat to coconut water, making it thicker, richer and more luscious. You can find coconut cream at most health and specialty food stores, online, and occasionally in your grocery store’s Asian foods aisle. If you don’t have access to coconut cream, after chilling a can of full-fat coconut milk in the fridge overnight, scoop out the cream that separates from the liquid and voilà – coconut cream.
How to Cook with Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is the best option for giving stews, soups, curries and more a creamy finish. If you’re looking for a little more lusciousness, throw ½ cup or so of coconut milk in at the end of your dish’s cook time. Generally, this won’t add much coconut flavor but it will improve the texture of the food.
If you’re looking for a more prevalent coconut flavor – like in a coconut chicken curry – opt for the whole can as a base.
Coconut milk is a ubiquitous ingredient in many Paleo treats – especially its thicker cousin, coconut cream. Try making your own coffee creamer – or even freezing coconut milk ice cubes for slow-melting goodness – or your own no-churn ice cream with coconut milk or cream. Coconut milk can be subbed in at the same ratio as whole milk in baking recipes, too.
Nut and Seed Milks
Nut and Seed Milk Benefits
Nut and seed milks – including almond, cashew, hazelnut, pistachio, hemp and pretty much any other nut or seed that the “milk” is made from – are another common Paleo milk substitute. Like coconut milk, nut milks in their most basic form are essentially nuts and water. And also like coconut milk, the best kind of nut milk is the kind you make at home, where you can retain the essential nutrients of nuts without any additives from processing. Homemade nut milk involves soaking the nuts, blending with water, and then draining the pulp.
The nutrition of a given nut milk depends on the nut it’s made from. Because the meat of any nut is lost in the pulp straining process, nut milks are a lower calorie and lower nutrient far cry from eating the nut itself. They’re also less pungent in flavor than coconut milk or camel milk, with just a hint of the actual nut’s flavor. But your morning glass of almond milk or hemp milk still has its place – as long as it’s free from unnecessary additives.
What to Look for When Buying Nut and Seed Milks
Those unnecessary additives are many, especially in most store bought milks. Major nut milk brands add unnecessary ingredients to thicken, emulsify and make the milk more palatable (the latter can be accomplished with a small amount of Paleo sweetener at home). That said, some brands keep the ingredient list minimal. Check your local natural foods or specialty shops for that.
How to Cook with Nut and Seed Milk
Because nut milks are much milder, they make a perfect base for smoothies or for enjoying on their own. You can even flavor your nut milks with vanilla bean or caramel-like dates for a homemade treat. Those who don’t like the taste of coconut or are allergic to it can opt for nut milk in many applications, with some modifications.
When baking, try a thicker, creamier nut milk variety like cashew milk, as almond milk and others tend to be more watery and comparable to skim milk. If you have no complaints about coconut, try a half coconut milk, half nut milk substitution.
Like coconut milk, nut and seed milks also make a great backdrop to breakfasts like Paleo cereal, oats, or waffles. While most aren’t quite as luscious as full-fat coconut milk, they still help in making foods dreamy and creamy.
Camel Milk Benefits
What makes camel milk Paleo while cow’s milk is not? It has superfood qualities; from anti-diabetic properties to immunity boosters akin to those of human breast milk, camel milk is a nutritive powerhouse. (2)
Camel milk is more commonly consumed throughout the Arab world; it has sustained nomadic cultures for millennia, thanks to the camel’s remarkable durability in non-temperate conditions. Camel milk is a good source of essential fatty acids, vitamin B1, protein, potassium, phosphorus, and calcium.
Thanks to its lower lactose content and lack of A1 casein protein and lactoglobulin found in cow’s milk, camel milk is also easier to digest, and may be a suitable substitute for those with dairy allergies or intolerances.
But how does it taste? Camel milk tastes similar – though more subtle – to mildly tart and salty goat’s milk, but it’s still sweet enough to satisfy your “milk” cravings.
What to Look for When Buying Camel Milk
As camel milk gains popularity, more and more companies have started offering it. However, camel milk is often sold raw and isn’t regulated under the same laws for hoofed-animal milk, (3) Since many companies that sell it aren’t inspected by the FDA or USDA, this poses a risk regarding safety and cleanliness.
Make sure to choose camel milk that’s pasture-raised and fed a soy-free, corn-free diet. Also check that there are no added hormones or antibiotics. If you’re looking for a safe, healthy option, we like Desert Farms as they’re the only Grade A camel dairy in North America.
How to Cook with Camel Milk
Camel milk may be the easiest milk to substitute for traditional dairy. It’s comparably sweet, thick and creamy, making it ideal for lattes (with turmeric, another superfood) and ice cream cakes, since it freezes well.
Camel milk, already chock full of probiotics, can also be made into yogurt and kefir, though it takes longer than cow’s milk – an indication that camel milk actually takes longer to spoil than traditional dairy. (4)
Try using camel milk in place of your coconut and nut milk in baking recipes, and you’ll find similar results. You could also try camel milk to make caramel, as a creamy component in sauces, or in hot chocolate.
(Read This Next: Milk Allergy: 9 Signs You’re Allergic, Foods to Avoid + Natural Alternatives)