Milk and Cheese Substitutes

Why are we “substituting” milk and cheese?  Please refer to our previous post, titled “CHEESE“.

MILK SUBSTITUTES

We shall start with milk substitutes.  There are plenty of milk substitutes available in your local market, and if not, they’re quite simple to make at home. When choosing your milk, make sure that you select one that meets your nutritional needs. I will say, some of these milk substitutes are an “acquired taste”; so they may have to grow on you. It’s trial and error really…but you’re bound to find one that you’ll absolutely love.

NUT MILK (Almond Milk is the most common)

Technically you can make great milk with almost any nut, but almonds are probably most popular. Almond milk is loaded with all kinds of vitamins and minerals that protect you from everything from heart disease to premature aging. Its smooth nutty flavor isn’t bad either.

This milk contains absolutely no saturated fats. A rather significant amount of saturated fat is found in cow’s milk, and has been proven to lead to heart disease.

Other heart healthy components include flavonoids, Omega-3 fatty acids, and potassium.  Research has shown flavonoids & Omega-3 fatty acids promote cardiovascular health; and potassium helps to regulate blood pressure.  It also improves the immune system (selenium), strengthens bones (manganese), and promotes weight loss (antioxidants).  The low calorie, low fat, zero cholesterol, and high mineral combination definitely helps when trying to shed extra pounds.

Vitamins & Minerals

  • Protein (more than dairy or soy milk)
  • Vitamin E
  • Manganese
  • Potassium
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Fiber
  • Phosphorous
  • Calcium
  • Selenium

How to select the right brand

Almonds can be rather expensive, which means companies are going to cut costs other ways. Most commercially distributed milks have a low amount of almonds in them.

The absence of an adequate amount of nuts also produces a decrease in the vitamins and minerals present in the milk. Some brands have resorted to compensating for this by adding synthetic vitamins to their products.  The best advice I could ever give you: Make sure you read the label. The label will tell you who is cutting corners or making unnecessary additions. The label never lies.

How to make Almond Milk:

SOY MILK

Soy milk is creamier, smooth, and rich.  It is rich in nutrition and substitutes directly (with the same ratio) in all recipes.  Soy milk has become increasing popular among those looking for an alternative to dairy. Although, research has raised some serious questions about its effects on overall health, many vegans still stand by this beverage.

Soy milk is the product of soaked soy beans and water.  Like the other milk alternatives, you simply blend, strain, and enjoy.  If you’re not inclined to make your own, it is available commercially. The benefits of soy milk reduce significantly when opt to buy it; additives are a major concern (some have been linked to cancer). It’s available in a variety of flavors: Unsweetened, Sweetened, Chocolate, and Vanilla to name a few.

Soy milk is rich in some essential vitamins and minerals. It is a rather significant source of: fiber, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, and protein. The protein has been labeled both a benefit of soy milk, as well as a cause for concern.

One of the highly promoted benefits of soy milk is its ability to improve heart health.  The Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids have protective powers in the blood vessels. They help prevent hemorrhage and lesions. These fatty acids also keep free radicals from wreaking havoc and cholesterol deposits from forming in the lining of the vessels.

Finally, they also increase the flexibility of cells, which in turn makes them more resilient to blood pressure.  The milk has zero cholesterol and mostly unsaturated fat.  The unsaturated fatty acids also prevent the transport of cholesterol into the bloodstream.

Research has also suggested that regular consumption of soy may lead to a decrease in low density lipoproteins (LDLs or “bad cholesterol”) and an increase in high density liproproteins (HDLs or “good cholesterol”).

Some scientists, however, claim soy milk may not directly impact heart health. The fact that soy milk is generally a substitute for more dangerous alternatives may make that appear to be a benefit.

Another benefit of soy milk is that it may help alleviate symptoms associated with postmenopausal syndrome. The phytoestrogen in soy milk is an effective replacement for estrogen.  Phytoestrogen has also been linked to osteoporosis prevention by enhancing the body’s calcium absorption process. This also prevents bone mass loss as well.

Finally, soy milk contains a considerable amount of isoflavones, which have been linked to cancer risk reduction, as well as, inhibiting tumor growth in prostate cancer patients.

The negative side of soy milk

While soy milk manufacturers may boast about the wonderful benefits of soy milk, there are some red flags waving for others.

One major concern is soy’s effect on the thyroid’s function in the body. Researchers believe the isoflavone geinstein may prevent the thyroid from functioning optimally in the body (hypothyroidism).

This is especially a concern for people that already suffer from hypothyroidism or even an iodine deficiency.

What’s Hypothyroidism & Why Should You Care?

The thyroid gland is the butterfly shaped organ you see in the illustration above.  This gland is responsible for producing thyroid hormone. The primary function of this hormone is to regulate the body’s metabolism. The thyroid is in control of how our bodies use energy.

Hypothyroidism is a condition in which something is causing inadequate amounts of thyroid hormone to be produced. This lack of the thyroid hormone is generally easily detected. Some symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Extreme difficulty in losing weight
  • Depression
  • Constipation
  • Increased Sensitivity to Cold
  • Hair Loss
  • Rough, Dry Skin

If left untreated, symptoms will definitely worsen. Rarely, these symptoms progress into life-threatening issues, such as extreme depression or even heart failure.

Treating hypothyroidism is fairly simple. Doctors often prescribe thyroid hormone pills, which will alleviate most symptoms in a short period of time. Unfortunately, this is usually a life-long regimen.

What Breast Cancer Patients & Survivors Should Know

One of the benefits of soy (phytoestrogen) is also setting off some alarms too. How? Scientists believe that phytoestrogen may stimulate cell growth.  This increased cell growth increases a survivor’s risk of recurrence of breast cancer.

Medical professionals are encouraging survivors and patients to limit their soy intake (especially if you are taking tamoxifen)until further research is conducted.
Soy milk may also contain enzyme inhibitors, digestive enzyme inhibitors specifically. Soy inhibits the digestive enzyme, trypsin, which breaks down protein into peptides in the body.

Finally, the soy protein allergy is becoming more and more common these days. For those that suffer from this condition, soy milk is definitely not a wise choice.

How to make Soy Milk:

RICE MILK

Rice milk is grainier and thinner and is lower in protein and other nutrients.  However, rice is the least allergenic food available, so this product works well for people with allergies or who simply prefer the texture.

There is no cholesterol, so that’s always good. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all this milk has to offer in terms of nutrition. It is higher in calories and carbs than most of the other options we’ve explored. High calorie and high carb foods have a tendency to lead to weight gain, if not consumed in moderation.

Compared to other options available, rice milk is rather nutrient deficient. It has significantly less protein and calcium content, and practically no bone or teeth health benefits at all. Most commercial brands, however, fortify their products with Vitamins A, B, & D, calcium, and iron.

It is probably best to make your own. Here’s why….

Most brands have a tendency to add sweeteners to their products to make the taste a bit more pleasing to their customers. Sweeteners seriously boost the calorie count.  Then there’s the always the “additives” debacle. These additives cause cancer, those cause diabetes, they all cause a lot of unnecessary headaches.  Lately, some brands have been involved in a bit of controversy also. Traces of arsenic have been showing up in some very popular brands. The appearance of arsenic is possibly linked to the pesticides used in the rice field. Though the levels found in these brands are low, they are still larger than the amount that is allegedly “safe” for people to consume.

How to make Rice Milk:

OAT MILK

Oat milk is grainer, but it is thicker than rice milk.  Plus, it provides fiber to the mix.

Oats have many healing properties and are best known for their high protein and fiber content and cholesterol reducing abilities. Oats can enhance the immune system, prevent cardiovascular diseases, maintain healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels, provide strength and energy from natural plant proteins and sugars, and improve the health of your skin and hair.

Oat milk is also completely void of cholesterol and saturated fats.  Oat milk is an extremely health-conscious choice, high in natural fiber and iron, and low in fat, sugars, and calories. Switching to oat milk is a preferable option if you are looking to lose weight.

Oat milk also provides many important vitamins and minerals including manganese, potassium, phosphorus, many B vitamins, vitamin E, and Vitamin A. Oat milk also contains a type of antioxidant called phytochemicals, which can protect against diseases including heart disease, stroke, and some cancers.

Those with a gluten intolerance have to avoid store bought oat milk, but can make it themselves using gluten free oats. Oats also have skin clearing properties and drinking oat milk has been known to clear acne and improve the overall health of the skin, as well as strengthen and repair hair.

Oat milk in stores is thinner and has a more subtle flavor than other milk substitutes, it is very versatile can be used just as dairy milk in cooking or drunk plain or with cereal or a hot beverage.  Making your own homemade oat milk has many benefits. When you make it yourself, you don’t have to worry about any unnatural additives you may find in commercial brands. Buying oats, especially in bulk, is extremely affordable, and you can save a lot of money by cutting cows milk from your grocery budget.  Oat milk is the easiest milk substitute to make in your own kitchen, as well as one of the cheapest. There are many different ways to go about making oat milk.

Quick oats or rolled oats, either soaked overnight or dry, can be blended with water and strained to make oat milk. If you have a coffee grinder, you can also try grinding the oats on the finest setting and stirring them into water.

You can also try blending cooked oats with water to make the milk creamier, or boiling the oats in an access of water and staining the mixture. The more powerful your blender, the smoother your oat milk will be, if you have a soy or nut milk maker, you can use this to make oat milk as well.

A basic ratio for oat milk is a oat : water ratio of 1:2. However, it is advised that you experiment with the thickness of your beverage. You can make your oat milk as thick, creamy, or thin as you would like by straining the blended mixture more or less.  The oats left in the nutcloth or cheesecloth after straining can be eaten, added to a smoothie, or used as a facial mask for clear and soft skin.

From here, you can experiment with adding anything you would like to your recipe. Oat milk is naturally sweet, but for a sweeter or even dessert-like drink, try adding molasses, maple syrup, or date syrup. For a special flavor you may like to add coconut shavings, or ripe strawberries or bananas. Adding the banana is also a good way to thicken the oat milk without worrying about lumps, and add some extra nutritional value. Some other suggested flavorings and spices for experimentation include cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, vanilla, or chocolate.

Whether you choose to drink oat milk for the health benefits, taste, cheap cost, dairy intolerance, or vegan diet; I hope that this article will help you enjoy your drink more by understanding the benefits of what you are consuming, and the enjoyment gained by making it yourself.

How to make Oat Milk:


HEMP MILK

Hemp milk is made with the shelled seeds of the hemp plant.  You will NOT get high drinking this milk!  There is absolutely NO tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in these seeds even though it is found in marijuana.  You can look forward to a stronger immune system, healthier skin, and even an increased mental capacity.

Hemp milk has no cholesterol…0%…That’s right! There’s not one bit of cholesterol in it, which is something that can’t be said of other milks.

This wonder milk also has the ideal Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio, which is 3 to 1 in case you were wondering. What does that mean exactly? Well Omega-3 rich foods contribute to better brain function and lowers blood pressure & cholesterol levels. Maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol decreases the risk of developing heart disease.

More Health Benefits:

  • All 10 Essential Amino Acids
  • Calcium (beats cow milk in this department!)
  • Folic Acid
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorous
  • Potassium
  • Protein (and doesn’t contain high levels of enzyme inhibitors, like soy, that interfere with the assimilation of essential minerals)
  • Riboflavin
  • Vitamins A, B12, D, & E
  • Zinc

There are a variety of ways in which hemp milk helps improve your health. Studies have shown that it promotes a stronger immune system, vibrant skin, hair & nails, as well as increased brain function.

Choosing A Trustworthy Brand

If making your own hemp milk is not an appealing idea, there are other options.  If you’re willing to brave the brands, here are some simple tips:

Read The Label: There is nothing more important than taking a few moments to read the ingredients of any product you’re purchasing. It could save your life.

Look for Carrageenan-free brands Carrageenan is an additive, used as a thickening agent that has been proven to cause CANCER in rats. There are brands that do not include it in their products

How to make Hemp Milk:

You can adjust this recipe to fit your taste. For example, if you want your milk a little thinner, simply strain it with a nut bag or some cheese cloth. This version is a thick consistency, but it’s quite tasty! Hemp milk has a nutty, yet sweet kind of flavor, comparable to Almond milk actually.

COCONUT MILK

Coconut milk is a delicious alternative to dairy milk, but its high saturated fat content has been a cause for alarm for some health conscious individuals. It has the potential to aid in weight loss & boost your immune system; so it’s not all bad. We’ll explore all sides of this milk substitute.

There are also nutritional differences between the various types of this milk. For example, the calorie and fat contents vary by type. Generally canned milk contains approximately 550 calories per cup, while milk packaged in a carton (& unsweetened) has 50 calories per cup. This milk is also high in saturated fats, which has caused some alarm for researchers.

Are all saturated fats created equal?  No.  Saturated fats consist of triglycerides, each containing three fatty acid chains. These chains can be anywhere from 2-22 carbon atoms long.  Coconut milk contains medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which can be 6-10 carbon atoms long. These chains are metabolized more quickly than long chain fatty acids (12+ carbon atoms), that are found mostly in meat and dairy products.

LCFAs are more likely to end up fat deposits in the body.  In 2003, McGill University published a study in the International Journal of Obesity that proved that MCFAs significantly increase metabolic rate, but this fact does not necessarily lead to weight loss.

In a similar study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2008), 40 men and women participated in a 16 week weight loss program that showed those that consumed mostly MCFA oils loss 6.6lbs, while those that consumed LCFA oils lost only 3.3lbs. Even though research has shown MCFAs positively affect metabolic rate and weight loss (in comparison to LCFAs), there is little proof that MCFAs are healthier for the heart.

In 2004, the American Journal of Nutrition published a study showing that people that consumed mostly MCFAs had 11% higher total cholesterol and 12% higher LDL (“bad cholesterol”) levels than those that consumed sunflower oil, which is rich in unsaturated fat.

The MCFAs found in this milk kills three major types of atherogenic organisms (bacteria that causes the formation of plaque in the arteries, which may lead to heart disease). Antibiotics STILL cannot do that.

Researchers have concluded the addition of healthier fats may actually promote weight loss.  Consuming these “healthier fats” leads to eating considerably less, studies show.  The decrease in consumption is due to the fact that healthy fats make the body feel full, and actually satiates the brain receptors that control appetite.

Coconut milk contains lauric acid, an acid also found in breast milk. Lauric acid is converted to monolaurin in the body, which has been shown to fight the viruses and bacteria that cause such illnesses as herpes, influenze, & HIV.

Danger!!

There are some things you should know.

1. BPA Exposure: BPA (Bisphenol-A) has been linked to diabetes, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), heart disease, & infertility. BPA is used in the lining of canned foods. Highly acidic, salty, or fatty (coconut milk is rather fatty) are more likely to absorb BPA, so just keep that in mind when making your purchase.

2. Fructose Malabsorption: Those that suffer from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) may want to avoid coconut milk. It is considered a FODMAP (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, and Mono-Saccharides and Polyols)

FODMAP Examples

  • Fructose (fruit, honey)
  • Fructans (wheat, onions)
  • Lactose (milk sugar)
  • Polyols (sugar alcohols, fruits like apples, pears, plums)
  • Galactooligosaccharides (legumes, beans)

Treatment of both, IBS & IBD, involve avoiding FODMAPs; and even though coconut milk has very little sugar (fructose), it is still considered a FODMAP. Make the right decision for your body.

How to make Coconut Milk:

CHEESE SUBSTITUTES

The picture above is Dreena Burton’s “Vegveeta Dip”

No one has to give up the flavor or texture of cheese anymore because there are an abundance of cheese substitutes. Cheese substitutes are usually lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than cheese made from cow’s milk, making them a healthy alternative.  These recipes will help guide you to making delicious dairy-free cuisine that traditionally uses cheese as a main component.  The most common natural cheese substitute is a product called nutritional yeast.

Nutritional Yeast

What It Is

Nutritional yeast is made from a single-celled organism, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, which is grown on molasses and then harvested, washed, and dried with heat to kill or “deactivate” it. Because it’s inactive, it doesn’t froth or grow like baking yeast does so it has no leavening ability.

Nutritional yeast has such an unappealing name that somebody started calling it “nooch” and the name caught on on the internet. The brand that most vegans use is Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula because it is a good source of vitamin B12 and contains no whey, an animal product that is used in some other brands. In the U.K., nutritional yeast is sold under the Engevita brand and in Australia as savory yeast flakes.  It only takes 1/2-1 tbsp of nutritional yeast to get the daily requirement for B-12. Nutritional yeast is also an excellent source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, chromium, selenium, and other minerals as well as 18 amino acids, protein, folic acid, biotin, and other vitamins.

What It Isn’t

Nutritional yeast is not the same as brewer’s yeast, which is a product of the beer-making process and is very bitter. It’s also not Torula yeast, which is grown on paper-mill waste and is also not very tasty. And please do not try to substitute active dry yeast or baking yeast, which taste bad and will probably make a huge, frothy mess because their yeasts are alive.

Where Can I Find It?

You probably won’t be able to find nutritional yeast in a typical grocery store. I buy it from the bulk bins at the local natural food store, where it is labeled “Vegetarian Support Formula.” Larger grocery stores might have Bob’s Red Mill brand in the natural food section. If you can’t find it locally, Amazon has several brands, including Red Star.

I use the flaked version of nutritional yeast, but it’s also available in a powder. If you’re using the powder, you will need only about half as much as the flakes.

Why Use It?

As you can guess from its name, nutritional yeast is packed with nutrition, particularly B-vitamins, folic acid, selenium, zinc, and protein. It’s low in fat, gluten-free (check specific brands for certification), and contains no added sugars or preservatives. Because vitamin B12 is absent from plant foods unless it’s added as a supplement, nutritional yeast that contains B12, such as Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula, is a great addition to the vegan diet (though I strongly recommend taking a supplement as the only way to be sure you’re getting enough). Not all nooch has B12, so check the label carefully before buying.

The vitamins and minerals are all well and good, but truthfully, I use nutritional yeast for its flavor, which has been described as cheesy, nutty, savory, and “umami.” Just a tablespoon or two can add richness to soups, gravies, and other dishes, and larger amounts can make “cheese” sauces and eggless scrambles taste cheesy and eggy.

The savory, umami taste of nutritional yeast comes from glutamaic acid, an amino acid that is formed during the drying process. Glutamic acid is not the same as the commercial additive monosodium glutamate and is a naturally occurring amino acid found in many fruits and vegetables. Adding a small amount of nutritional yeast to a dish enhances the flavors present and helps form a rich flavor base.

If for some reason you can’t find nutritional yeast or can’t use it, you can safely leave it out of recipes where it’s used in small amounts as only a flavor enhancer; in some cases, miso or soy sauce can be used in a 1:3 ratio (1/3 of the amount of nooch called for), though both add sodium, so you may need to reduce the salt. In recipes where nutritional yeast provides the bulk of the flavor, such as vegan cheese sauces, it’s best not to attempt to substitute it.

How Do You Use It?

If you’re new to nooch, it’s better to try it a little at a time rather than to dive right into a recipe that uses a lot of it. Try some of the suggestions below, using just a little until you develop a taste for it:

  • Sprinkle it on popcorn.
  • Stir it into mashed potatoes.
  • Add a little to the cooking water for “cheesy grits” or polenta.
  • Sprinkle on any pasta dish.
  • Make almond “parmesan” by blending nutritional yeast with raw almonds in a food processor.
  • Add a tablespoon or two to bean dishes to enhance flavors.

 

 

 

How to make “Faux Parmesan”

 

 

 

 

For a Cheesy Flavor:

In many of these recipes, nutritional yeast is a central ingredient adding much of the flavor. Leaving it out isn’t advised.

For an Eggy-Cheesy Flavor:

Nutritional yeast contributes a lot of flavor to these tofu-based “egg” dishes.

For More Yeasty Information:

More Cheesy dishes:

Cheese Sauce

Bread Crumbs

Replace bread crumbs with nutritional yeast in any mixture requiring holding power. This cuts down on the carbs and adds an extra bite. Try using nutritional yeast to hold together veggie burgers or any other patty that would normally require bread crumbs.

Kale Chips

Macaroni & Cheese

Pasta

Dips

Sauce Thickener

Much like flour and butter are used to thicken a sauce, nutritional yeast can replace the flour to do the same thing.  Brown Gravy

Salad Dressing

Traditional Japanese Substitutes

Another natural substitute for cheese is miso, a traditional Japanese ingredient used in miso soup. Miso is a fermented paste, usually made from soy, that imparts an aged, salty flavor to foods. While high in sodium, miso is also rich in trace minerals like zinc and magnesium. You can lightly spread miso on foods, or you can mix it into hot sauces until it’s dissolved.

Some cheese substitutes might require some effort to find and prepare, but their health benefits might make the effort worthwhile.

***NOW, with all of this being said.  I have a challenge for you:  Give up dairy for two weeks, use the listed substitutes above, and come back here and let us know how you feel.  We would love to hear your feedback!

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5 comments

  1. Joyce says:

    What a wealth of info. I’m a big DIYer and I’ve considered making my own plant-based milk. I’m thankful to have your site as a resource. I’ll be trying this real soon…the info about the additives, arsenic and cancer causing substances in the store-bought brands is crazy scary!

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