How to Substitute Milk (Skim, Low Fat, Whole)


Most of the information below on how to substitute milk for dairy-free diets is excerpted from my book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook. However, I’ve also added product reviews and a few fun recipes that are here on the website.

Dairy-Free Guide: How to Substitute Dairy Milk in Recipes (cooking and baking, skim, low fat, and whole milk options) and for Drinking

Tips to Substitute Milk for Dairy-Free Diets

Dairy-Free Low-Fat and Non-Fat Milk Substitutions

The selection of non-dairy milk options has exploded in recent years. Below is a rundown of the choices to substitute milk, their flavor profiles, and best uses …

Almond Milk Alternative

The base of almond milk is typically made from ground almonds, filtered water, and a small amount of sweetener (i.e. brown rice syrup), though you can easily find unsweetened varieties.

Almond milk can best be described as a lightly sweet non-dairy beverage with a delicate almond flavor. The nutty flavor in almond milk can be a plus in various desserts. It has become my personal favorite for smoothies. However, almond milk is best left to sweet dishes, as even the unsweetened varieties can make some savory dishes taste slightly off.

Coconut Milk Beverage

Not to be mistaken with regular or light coconut milk (which are sold in cans), coconut milk beverage is sold in cartons like other milk alternatives, and is relatively light. It does have a hint of coconut flavor, but still works well in sweet recipes, on cereal, or in savory dishes where the flavor blends well, such as Asian entrees or salad dressings with sharp flavors.


This is the classic, the originaly milk alternative. It has been around so long that “soymilk” is a recognized word (versus having to put “milk alternative or beverage” after the name). It does have a distinct but mild “beany” taste that some people love and others loathe.

Nonetheless, soymilk is still considered one of the most versatile milk alternatives. It is slightly heftier in protein and fat than most milk alternatives, making it a good option to substitute milk in savory sauces and in baked goods. It can pretty much be a stand-in for milk in most recipes, but keep that “beany” profile in mind. Soymilk could overpower a delicately-flavored recipe. And it tends to curdle more easily in hot drinks and sauces.

Rice Milk Beverage

When soy allergies and milk and soy protein intolerance (MSPI) emerged as concerns, rice milk popped onto the market as another way to substitute milk. Many moms say that rice milk is the most loved by kids. Like soymilk, it is highly versatile and can be used in most recipes, both sweet and savory. Where rice milk falls short is in its heft. It is very light and sometimes a touch watery, so it won’t add much richness to sauces or ice creams. However, unlike soymilk, it works quite well in more delicate dessert recipes that don’t require a lot of fat.

Oat Milk Beverage

Oat milk has exploded in popularity, but keep in mind that it is more processed than some other alternatives. Despite the simple ingredient lists, most brands use special processing techniques to make oat milk more fluid and less “slimy.” This is why even unsweetened versions tend to have sugar (it is created in the processing) and are very low in fiber.

Oat milk has a nice earthy taste that isn’t too bitter or too sweet. It is great in smoothies, with cereal or granola, and works well in baked goods. I also think it is a good option for savory recipes and some sweets, but oat milk may be a little too earthy for say, a light white sauce or creme brulee.

Hemp Milk Beverage

Hemp milk has fought a few uphill battles. Obviously, regulations on hemp are a primary issue, which is why all brands of hemp milk come from Canadian companies. But hemp also has a strong taste that can be a bit too powerful in milk alternatives at times. Some hemp companies have mellowed out that flavor with sweeteners and certain processing techniques. Like soymilk, some love the flavor while others find it a bit, well, skunky. Still, hemp milk is a great allergen-free milk alternative that is worth trialing – I’d just avoid using it in delicately-flavored recipes.

Flax Milk Beverage

This darling has some huge potential for its ability to truly substitute milk. One reporter did a blind taste-test of milk alternatives with milk drinkers. Flax milk was the resounding winner. It was enjoyed by all and had a taste and consistency that was voted as closest to “the real stuff.”

I’ve enjoyed it myself and have to admit that it is pretty seamless. The fluidity is spot on, and it has just enough fat to impart milky richness without being too thick. The flavor is also quite mild. It should work well in almost any recipe that calls for milk, whether sweet, savory, earthy, or delicate.

More Milk Beverages

There are a few more types of milk alternatives on the market, including chia and avocado milk. They are usually blends with other types of milk. You can discover more in our Dairy-Free Milk Alternative Product Reviews.

How to Use

All of the above can be used to substitute milk in a 1:1 ratio for skim or low-fat milk, whether used raw, when cooking, or in baking … with a few exceptions. Things like instant pudding won’t set-up nicely with most milk alternatives. See p.169 in Go Dairy Free for several easy methods to make delicious instant pudding.

Also, if using a milk alternative in savory dishes, purchase the “unsweetened” variety. Original, vanilla, and other milk alternative flavors will often have sweetener added, which could throw off your dish.

Whole Milk Subs

For many recipes, any of the low-fat / non-fat milk substitute options will work well as a substitute for whole milk, too. However, I prefer to use the following non-dairy milk choices when the recipe or my tastes require something with a touch of richness …

Coconut Milk Beverage

This is one of the richest commerically available milk alternatives, containing 5 grams of fat per 1 cup serving, just a bit below the 8 grams of fat in 1 cup of whole milk.

Light Coconut Milk

anned light coconut milk has roughly double the amount of fat as whole milk. This can be a benefit in some recipes, but if you prefer something a little lighter then use 1 part water and 1 part light coconut milk in place of the whole milk.

Keep in mind, canned light coconut milk has more of a coconut flare than coconut milk beverage, and may impart a coconut vibe on your recipe. This usually works well in many dessert recipes, and in Asian-inspired savory dishes, but may need to be masked by other flavors in recipes such as a linguine alfredo.

Canned light coconut milk is shelf-stable and typically sold in the Asian section of most grocers. Do not confuse it with coconut milk beverage (sold by the quart or half-gallon in aseptic packages or refrigerated cartons), which is lighter in fat, coconut taste, and texture, and may be sweetened.

Recipes: Homemade Milk Alternatives

Products: Milk Alternatives at the Store

Below are the products we’ve had a chance to taste-test and review here on Go Dairy Free.

Tips for Buying Milk Alternatives

The number of milk alternatives currently on the market is phenomenal, and the list seems to be growing by the day.  You can now enjoy delicious creamy soups and sauces as well as rich desserts made from rice, soy, oat, almond, coconut, sunflower, or even flax “milks”.  With this in mind, I have a few general tips and bits of information to offer before you head off on your dairy-free shopping spree to substitute milk:

  • Cut the Sugar: My best discovery yet! Although plain and unsweetened varieties of milk alternatives are typically a bit sweeter than cow’s milk, most are amazingly lower in sugar! Be sure to look at the labels though, I have seen some brands and flavors (especially chocolate) with sugar levels at around 19 grams per serving. For the healthiest options, opt for the “Unsweetened” or “Light” varieties, these typically have only 1-4g of sugar per 8oz serving. Cow’s milk has a whopping 12 to 16 grams of sugar per serving for your basic regular, low-fat, and skim varieties!
  • Dairy-Free: To the best of my knowledge, all of the alternatives that I have listed are 100% dairy-free (lactose-free, casein-free, whey-free, etc.) and suitable for those with dairy sensitivities / allergies.
  • Heart Healthy: All of the listed milk alternatives have 0 grams of Trans Fats and 0 grams of cholesterol. With the exception of coconut milk they are free of saturated fat, too.
  • Calcium: Check the labels, many varieties of non-dairy milks are fortified to rival the Vitamin D and calcium available in cow’s milk. Manufacturers are working to substitute milk in the nutritional department, too.
  • Gluten-Sensitivity: Most non-dairy beverages are gluten free, caution is noted with oat and rice Milks. Just in case, be sure to read the packaging carefully, and contact the manufacturer when in doubt.
  • Taste: When experimenting with recipes, you may want to taste the milk alternative both chilled and heated to detect flavor overtones that may affect a particular recipe.
  • Flavors: In general, flavored milk alternatives such as chocolate and vanilla are best for drinking and for some desserts. For general cooking, choose the unflavored versions.
  • Shelf Life: Always check the expiration date on refrigerated, canned, and aseptic packages. Although aseptic packages do not require refrigeration until opened, popping them in the refrigerator a little early does create that nice cool “milk” taste. Once opened, all milk alternatives must be stored in the refrigerator, where most will keep for 7 to 10 days.
  • Shake Well: Instructions on non-dairy milks urge the user to shake well before using – this is a must for some brands to keep the consistency of the product throughout its use.
  • In Recipes:  Each of the milk substitutes listed can replace cow’s milk in cooking or baking, as noted, using a 1:1 ratio (i.e. 1 cup of cow’s milk = 1 cup of soy milk).
  • Potential “Hidden” Allergens: Many brands of milk alternatives have “natural” additives to improve their flavor, texture, and/or shelf life. Those with gluten concerns should double check the label for ingredients such as barley malt (sometimes used in sweetening). In the past, some brands of rice milk utilized barley enzymes in production, but those companies reportedly changed their products to make their rice milk alternatives gluten-free. If you are seeking soy-free, be aware that some types of milk alternatives that appear soy-free may use soy lecithin as an emulsifier. If you are trying to avoid corn, keep an eye out for xanthan gum on the ingredients lists. It is sometimes used as a thickener in milk alternatives and is usually derived from corn.

For more creamy recipes and dairy alternative tips from my kitchen, see Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living.

Go Dairy Free 2nd Edition - The Ultimate Guide and Cookbook for Dairy-Free Living with Over 250 Recipes!

About Author

Alisa is the founder of, Food Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living, and the new cookbook, Eat Dairy Free: Your Essential Cookbook for Everyday Meals, Snacks, and Sweets. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.


  1. Hi Alisa,

    My son (6rs) loves cereal at breakfast (e.g rice krispies). What would be the best option to replace his usual 1% milk so that his cereal experience is as close to usual as possible? We are assessing his intolerances to narrow down the allergy… Lactose free didn’t work so now we’re dairy free. Thank you!

    • There really is no substitute that tastes exactly like dairy milk – every food is different! And what your son might like is so hard to say. Many kids prefer rice milk, but he might like soymilk, almond milk, pea milk (also popular with some kids), or another.

  2. Hi Alisa, thanks for the great article. I have a severe milk allergy and I wanted to share some experiences with you. My problem with milk has to do with canker sores. That’s it. Painful canker sores that last for weeks. Anyone who has had them knows how annoying they can be, especially if they get them regularly. I didn’t discover my allergy until I was an adult, meaning I have had regular canker sores for much of my life.

    I have tried to completely eliminate dairy from my diet, and have had some success. However, sometimes the canks would come back, despite my best efforts to avoid lactose. Recently I was canker free for several months after I eliminated anything with “Natural Ingredients” in them, after finding out that natural ingredients could include well over 100 different things, including lactose. So everything was working fine until I decided to add Rice Dream rice milk to my diet. The cankers slowly reappeared, and I now have 3 different canker sores I am dealing with. Although Rice Dream doesn’t list natural ingredients on their packaging, I am convinced that natural ingredients are there. The reason I believe that is that when I saw an advertisement for Rice Dreams on Amazon, it listed natural ingredients on the label, but it now no longer lists them on the label. At any rate, I would like to recommend to your readers that they watch out for any foods with natural ingredients in them, as they could spark an allergic reaction, including many of the dairy free milks listed here that may have natural ingredients.

    • Hi Jack,

      Have you ever been tested for Oral Lichen Planus (OLP)? What you are experiencing may not actually be canker sores but the OLP expressing itself. You should be tested. This disease can progress over the years and cause some severe mouth problems. Lactose could be a trigger for OLP to flare up. Please rule out OLP before it becomes worse.

  3. Maureen Howell on

    Hello Aisla I wonder if you could advise me what milk would be the best substitute for fully skimmed milk please ? I notice this question has been asked but that was for drinking milk. I’m looking for a non sweet milk alternative for use in drinking tea. I’m also vegetarian if that is relevant. Any advice greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Maureen, for tea and coffee, I find that homemade milks work best. It’s hard to recommend a specific brand as they will all perform differently due to the additives. If you are looking for fully skimmed / non-fat, then there are only a few options on the market. I would check the rice milks and oat milks. Most meant for coffee and tea will have some fat. Do you have a copy of Go Dairy Free – the 2nd edition? In it, I gave the results of testing 25 different types of milk beverages in tea.

  4. Love it, UK is the best place for dairy product similar to that of india. in india we cook milk peda, resmalai, lessi etc. we sreenandhaas are producing somany dairy product. can we test your recipe alisa

  5. Hi I hope you can give me advice. I’m 17 weeks and 2 days pregnant with a baby boy as happy as I am the symptoms are a trouble maker. My new symptom came up a few days ago and I can’t have anything dairy without the reactions similar to lactose intolerance. I’m naturally a huge dairy lover and I have no clue how to replace any of the dairies I like. I don’t know what tastes good in this new diet and I don’t want to put a lot of money into trial and error.

  6. Pingback: Banish Bloating for Good: 15 Ways to Get a Flat Stomach ~ Sophlix

  7. Pingback: What Are the Best Dairy Substitutes Available Today? – BlueHealth Solutions

  8. Hi hoping you can help. I found out my baby has a diary allergy and as I breastfeed her I have been advice to cut out diary.
    now I can all the non diary foods. but my one love is a good cup of tea with full fat milk. I have tried oaty and almond milk and both make me queasy do you have an alternative that tastes yummy in tea and coffee please?

    • Hi Jessi, it sounds like you are in the UK, correct? Unfortunately, I haven’t personally tried many of the brands over there, but many people like using just a tablespoon or two of full fat coconut milk in their tea or coffee. Very rich. To offset the coconut flavor, you can add a touch of vanilla.

  9. Pingback: What Are the Best Dairy Substitutes Available Today? | BlueHealth Solutions

  10. I just came across your website. I’m trying to cut dairy simply because it causes me to breakout in cycstic acne. I do have one set back: I am powerlifter and the fats, carbs and protein from whole milk and yogurt are vitally essential to my diet. What exactly could I substitute those for? For example, 2-3 glasses of whole milk plus 2 servings of yogurt everyday? The only reason I consume these two products is strictly for the nutritional value…I have no real desire to consume them. I already weened out butter and heavy whipping cream, 2 other big staples in my diet for saturated fat, for coconut oil. Thank you in advance.

    • Hi Mike, I’m very sorry for my delay. Please note that I am not a physician and cannot advise you on the best diet for you. I can share my own information and experiences. As for the yogurt, probiotics are readily available in many foods these days (fermented products, kefir, supplements, etc) – and there are a couple of unsweetened dairy-free yogurts on the market – I can personally recommend CoYo (very high in fats) and So Delicious unsweetened (lower fat) – both are coconut-based. As for the whole milk, I typically break a food down to assess why I want that food and also, remember that it is a food, not just a drink. Most “milk beverages” will not be equivalent, but plenty of food is. There are also many, many nutritional shakes out there – Homemade smoothies with your own perfect blend may meet your needs, too – protein powders, nuts, coconut milk, etc. Again, it is best to consult a medical professional before any change in diet 🙂

  11. Great info, thank you! Which beverages do you recommend to be organic? I know soy is a big one people recommend to be organic. I don’t know about rice, coconut or almond. I need a fat-free alternative, mainly for cereal, that still has good nutrition. I’m having a really hard time finding one. I used to get Fat Free, Organic Soymilk, but the brand we used stopped making it. Their other organic, non-fat soymilk (but not labeled “organic”), had organic soymilk, but also non-organic soy protein concentrate. Thank you!

    • I recommend organic soymilk mainly because it is non-gmo. Almond, coconut and rice are not yet common GMO foods, so it is really up to you on choosing organic or not for these. I do typically purchase organic versions as they are readily available. For sustainability, I’ve read that the best options are coconut, cashew, and probably rice milk.

  12. Louis Snodgrass on

    I found this page searching for dairy-free, fat-free milk substitutes. This lists a lot of substitutes for milk, but which ones are the alternatives to skim milk? I would assume that coconut milk is not a substitute for skim milk. I’m not talking about the consistency, but strictly the fat content (though I know they are related). If I had to eat a no-fat diet, which dairy milk alternative would you suggest (if any)? Thanks!

    • Hi Louis, any of the “beverages” listed under the low-fat or non-fat tab can be used in place of skim (note that is coconut milk beverage, not coconut milk). For the very lightest option – closest to skim – I would go for rice milk alternative, followed by flax milk alternative, but the latter is harder to find.

      • Hi Alisa. I just love the taste of regular skim milk….drink it by the glass full. Would you still suggest rice milk and flax milk for the way I consume milk?

        • Hi Mia, that’s a very particular thing. Each person has a different favorite. A lot of people prefer almond milk, but many do find flax milk to be closest to skim milk, however it can be hard to find. I would say that hemp milk and coconut milk beverage are the furthest types from skim milk in terms of taste. All are unique though, including by brand.

  13. Pingback: Dairy- and Egg-Free Baking - Healthy Crystal City

Leave A Reply