Whole Milk Substitute

Close up shot of woman holding a bottle of organic fresh milk in supermarket - stock photo

Whole milk has a milk fat percentage, at 3.5%. Due to its high-fat content, whole milk is often recommended for toddlers and children. It also can be recommended for adults who need more fat or calories in their diet.

But there are times when you need a substitute for whole milk. There are many reasons to choose a whole milk alternative, such as a dairy allergy, access, preference, or a low-fat or vegan diet. Here is what you need to know about whole milk and its alternatives.

When Dairy Milk is Necessary

Dairy milk may be a better option for certain people groups (as long as you aren’t allergic to it). Dairy milk is usually cheaper than most non-dairy and plant-based milk. Also, cow’s milk is highly recommended for children 1 year old and older. It provides a good balance of natural calories from fat and protein and some essential vitamins and minerals.

Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RDN

When substituting for whole milk, it’s important to look at the overall nutritional profile of the replacement for that, how it will be used in the diet, any ingredients that may be added or missing (or low), and how those nutrients can be met elsewhere.

— Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RDN

For example, whole milk is rich in vitamin D and calcium. These nutrients are important for a child’s growth. Many non-dairy substitutes are fortified with calcium but may lack other important nutrients found in milk. This does not make cow’s milk completely necessary, but it should bring awareness to the importance of getting these nutrients elsewhere in your diet.

“When substituting for whole milk, it’s important to look at the overall nutritional profile of the replacement for that, how it will be used in the diet, any ingredients that may be added or missing (or low), and how those nutrients can be met elsewhere,” says Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RDN, a doctor of public health and nutritionist.

Why Use an Alternative

You may want to use a whole milk alternative if you are lactose intolerant or have a dairy allergy. Whole milk and most other dairy milk contain milk proteins, which some people cannot tolerate. There are many non-dairy options if you are allergic or lactose intolerant.

Plant-based milk is a good option for those with sensitivities. However, you can buy dairy milk that is lactose-free too, but this type of milk is usually not advisable for someone with a milk allergy who is allergic to milk proteins and not lactose. 

Another reason to choose a whole milk alternative would be if you run out in the middle of the recipe or drinking it does not align with your nutrition preferences. For instance, if you follow a vegan diet, you may want an alternative to dairy milk. Dairy milk is an animal product, which is avoided in a vegan diet. Plant-based milk would be a more vegan-friendly choice, such as oat, soy, rice, or almond milk.

Whole Milk Nutrition Facts

Whole milk is a good source of fat and contains some protein. It also has some necessary vitamin and nutrients such as calcium. Here are the USDA’s nutrition facts for 1 cup of whole milk.

  • Calories: 149 kcal
  • Fat: 7.93 g
  • Sodium: 105 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 11.7 g
  • Protein: 7.69 g
  • Calcium: 276 mg

Whole Milk Substitutes

There are many options for substituting whole milk when making food and drinks. Here are a few whole milk alternatives, each with nutritional differences and preferred use cases.

Plant-Based Milk

Nondairy milk is often made from nuts or plants. Examples of plant-based milk are oat milk, soy milk, almond milk, and rice milk. Each type of plant-based milk varies from the next in viscosity, flavor, and use cases. This is because they are each made from different ingredients.

Plant-based milk often has less viscosity than whole milk and has different ingredients. This causes them to be used differently when making food and drinks. Sometimes, plant-based milk cannot be used in place of whole milk.

For example, if you want to make oatmeal using milk, you would not substitute oat milk. This is because the oat content in the milk would prevent the milk from being properly absorbed by the oats.

Plant-based milk is perfect for use in drinks. They do the same job as milk and are used to lighten the flavor of things like coffee and tea. You can also use them to make hot chocolate. Plant-based milk even froths well, making them especially useful for lattes and other espresso drinks.

Thankfully, when used in cooking or baking, you will not need to alter the amount of milk you use. You can trade every 1 cup of whole milk for 1 cup of plant-based milk. Even so, the resulting dish may turn out differently because plant-based milks are not usually as thick as whole milk. Depending on the recipe, you can use another ingredient as a thickening agent, such as cornstarch or flour.

Using plant-based milk does affect baking time, too. Most plant-based milks are more watery, which can cause your dish to cook faster.

“Almond milk has a higher water content than dairy milk, decreasing bake time," says registered dietician Laura Bishop-Simo.

While this change in bake time might be acceptable in some dishes, it is much more important in others (such as baked goods). Just a couple of minutes change in bake time can cause an overcooked baked good.

Low Fat Milk

Other whole milk alternatives are skim milk, 1% milk, and 2% milk, which are dairy milk. There is no nutritional difference between this type of milk and whole milk, except for a difference in fat and calories.

Substituting whole milk for low-fat milk also will not significantly affect most recipes. However, it may be more noticeable in pudding, custard, and sauce recipes. These recipes rely on the fat content of whole milk. Cakes and cookies do not, though they may be a little drier.

When substituting whole milk with lower fat milk, you can generally substitute one-to-one and add some butter to make up for the lack of fat—roughly 2 teaspoons of butter per 1 cup of milk. Beware of recipes that depend on the fat content of whole milk because low-fat milk may not be a sufficient substitute. 

Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt is still a dairy product, so it is not a good option if you’re lactose intolerant or vegan. However, it can be helpful for those who want more probiotics in their diet. Yogurt has good bacteria that aid in digestion and gut health.

Greek yogurt does not lack the creamy texture needed for recipes, as it’s even creamier than whole milk. However, it is also more tart. Compared to regular yogurt, it is higher in protein and lower in lactose. Unfortunately, due to yogurt’s thicker viscosity and creaminess, it does not make a good replacement in drinks, and the tart flavor will be noticeable.

Unlike other cooking substitutes, you do not have to fully replace whole milk with yogurt. Instead, yogurt is good for reducing the amount of milk you need. For example, try substituting 3/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup yogurt for every 1 cup of whole milk. This can help reduce the amount of milk you use in a recipe and can save you a trip to the grocery store if you are running low on milk but have yogurt. 

Cream

There are a few different kinds of cream, with the most common ones being heavy cream and half and half. Both have more calories and fat than whole milk. 

Heavy cream is very thick and creamy, and you can substitute whole milk for it in a one-to-one ratio. However, there are times when you do not want your food to become thicker—such as with batter. If this is the case, you can substitute about 60% heavy cream and 40% water.

Half and half is thicker than whole milk but lighter than heavy cream. This is because it comprises 50% whole milk and 50% heavy cream. You can substitute 1 cup of half and a half for every 1 cup of whole milk. It may make the dish slightly thicker and creamier, so be careful when using this substitution in baking.

A Word From Verywell

There are many dairy milk substitutes especially if you need to replace whole dairy milk if you are lactose sensitive or intolerant, if you are vegan, or if you simply want a lower fat percentage. Sometimes, you may also simply be out of milk, in which case you will want a substitute. If you choose a nondairy alternative, you should also make sure that you are balancing your diet accordingly and adding any lost nutrients elsewhere.

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7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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