Healthy Tips for Elders

Nondairy Beverages

Soy milk was first developed in the United States by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the inventor of cornflakes and granola, and head of the Battle Creek Sanitarium for more than fifty years. A student of Kellogg’s, Dr. Harry W. Miller, took Kellogg’s knowledge of soy milk with him to China. Miller developed processes to make soy milk more palatable and began production on a factory scale in China in 1936.

In various developing countries, the scarce supply of cow’s milk has made it desirable to invest in the development of plant protein beverages. Dietary constraints (avoidance of cholesterol and saturated fat), religious convictions, ethical philosophy (environmental concerns), and personal choice (dislike of dairy products, fear of milk-borne diseases) have led others to be interested in the use of alternatives to cow’s milk. In addition, medical reasons (lactose intolerance, allergies) have prompted a growing interest in milk alternatives.

Today’s replacements for dairy milk are variously referred to as milk substitutes, milk beverage alternatives, and nondairy beverages. Soy milk is just one example of such beverages available on the market today.


Nondairy beverages are usually based upon one of the following: soybeans, tofu, grains, vegetables, nuts, or seeds.

Whole soybeans are used as the main ingredient in most nondairy beverages. Many labels list the beans as organic whole soybeans to attract customers who prefer naturally grown products. Soy protein isolate, a concentrated protein derived from soybeans, is the second most common main ingredient. A few products use tofu as the main ingredient. Tofu is made from pureed soybeans, similar to how cottage cheese is made from cow’s milk.

Other products use grains, vegetables, nuts, and seeds (such as rice, oats, green peas, potatoes, or almonds) as a major ingredient. Homemade recipes for nondairy beverages use soybeans, almonds, cashews, or sesame seeds.


Nondairy beverages are often judged for acceptability first by sight and smell. If the product is a caramel or tan color, it may be rejected as a replacement for cow’s milk before it has even been tasted. White or cream-colored products are more readily accepted. Off-odors also bias the acceptability of a product.

Factors that negatively impact the acceptability of a nondairy beverage include taste (too sweet, too salty, or chalky), consistency (too thick, too watery, grainy, gritty, pasty, or oily), and aftertaste (bean flavor, bitter flavor, or medicinal flavor).


The most common nutrients added to a nondairy beverage are those nutrients found abundantly in cow’s milk. These nutrients include: protein, calcium, riboflavin (vitamin B2), cobalamin (vitamin B12), and vitamin A. Cow’s milk and some commercial nondairy beverages are fortified with vitamin D.

There is a wide variation of philosophies on the ideal amount and kind of fortification for nondairy beverages. Some products have absolutely no fortification, while other products are heavily fortified to closely approximate the nutritional profile of cow’s milk. Homemade nondairy beverages usually have no fortification, and therefore are not comparable to the nutrient content of dairy milks. They are lacking in calcium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.


Milk, yogurt, and cheese are found at the third level of the Food Guide Pyramid. The pyramid is a graphic depiction of the dietary guidelines for Americans. It was designed to depict variety, moderation, and proportion in the diet. Milk, yogurt, and cheese are rich sources of calcium, protein, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B12, and vitamin A, and are fortified with vitamin D.

Teenagers, young adults under twenty-five years of age, and women should aim for a minimum of three servings per day of milk, yogurt, and cheese, or the dairy alternatives group. When making selections, look for low-fat and nonfat products. However, children under two years of age need the concentrated energy that comes from whole milk, and should not be given low-fat and skim milk to drink.

Nonfat milk, low-fat cheese, fat-free frozen dairy desserts, and nonfat frozen yogurt are all healthy choices for adults. Fat-free cottage cheese, while a good source of protein, is not abundant in calcium. If using cottage cheese as a calcium source, one would need to eat more, as the production process precipitates the calcium into the whey. One cup of cottage cheese is equal to the calcium in only half a cup of milk. Tofu prepared with calcium sulfate or other calcium products has acceptable calcium levels. However, if magnesium chloride or similar products were used, it does not contain adequate calcium. Read the labels carefully to determine calcium content of the tofu you are using, and consider switching to a calcium-rich tofu product if the one you currently use is low in this important nutrient.


While acceptable taste is an important consideration in selecting a nondairy beverage, the nutritional value should be more important. One should select a fortified brand that contains at least twenty to thirty percent of the recommended daily allowance for calcium, riboflavin, and vitamin B12 values—a proportion similar to the nutritional profile of dairy milk. For those who live in northern latitudes (in which winter sunlight is too weak for vitamin D synthesis), choose a nondairy beverage fortified with vitamin D.

Alternatives to dairy include a variety of tofu and nondairy beverages and cheeses. If using nondairy foods, it is important to choose a product fortified with calcium, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and vitamin D. While one glass of milk provides up to twenty-five percent of the calcium an adult needs per day, some nondairy beverages provide only one percent of the calcium in the same serving size. Choose nondairy beverages that provide at least twenty-five percent of the calcium needed each day. Look for products that have calcium listed as an added ingredient on the label. These nondairy beverages should also contain vitamin B12 and vitamin D in the ingredient list.


In selecting a nondairy beverage, consider the following:

  1. Choose a nondairy beverage fortified with at least thirty percent of the recommended daily allowance for calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.
  2. Depending upon your personal nutritional goals, choose a nondairy beverage that is either low-fat or regular fat.
  3. Nondairy beverages, if chosen to replace dairy products, are replacing an important food group supplying critical nutrients.
  4. Label reading is important, as formulas may change over time.
  5. The position of the General Conference Nutrition Council is that nondairy beverages are unsuitable for infants. Nondairy beverages are generally lacking sufficient protein and fat and have not been formulated for the immature digestive system of an infant. Nondairy beverages are hazardous to babies’ healthy growth. A specially designed soybased commercial infant formula should be used for an infant up until at least twelve months of age. However, breast-feeding is recommended when possible.
  6. Although a highly refined product, when properly fortified, plant beverages can be a suitable substitute for dairy milk.


A common misconception is that nondairy beverages can be substituted for dairy milk in any recipe. The biggest problems in cooking occur during the heating, cooking, or baking of the nondairy beverage. Nondairy beverages that are soy-based or highly fortified with calcium carbonate tend to curdle at high temperatures. This problem is intensified—even more so than cow’s milk—if acidic foods (such as tomatoes or oranges) are also used. One advantage to cooking with nondairy beverages is that at high temperatures there is less scorching than occurs with dairy milk.

Consistency or texture changes may be unpredictable when substituting a nondairy beverage. For example, most instant puddings do not set when a nondairy beverage is substituted for dairy milk. When making gravies, a higher percentage of thickening agent (starch) needs to be used if using a soy-based beverage. Grain-based beverages, such as those containing oats, rice, or the starch in potatoes, will thicken well.

Flavor is another factor in using a nondairy beverage for cooking. A sweet or vanilla flavor is hardly suitable for soups or other savory recipes.

As a general rule, soy-based nondairy beverages have a thicker, richer, and creamier texture than grain- or nut-based nondairy beverages. Rice-based nondairy beverages have a lighter, sweeter flavor and, for many people, more closely imitate the flavor of dairy milk. Nut-based nondairy beverages are better for sweeter dishes like some curries and desserts of all kinds. When it comes to replacing dairy milk with nondairy beverages, experimentation is often the best teacher.


The following terms are commonly found on nondairy beverage product labels:

“One percent fat”: This means one percent by weight of the product, not one percent of the kilocalories. Low-fat one-percent cow’s milk contains twentyseven percent of the kilocalories from fat.

“Cholesterol-free”: This is a correct term, but remember that all nondairy beverage products are cholesterol-free because all are manufactured from plants. No plant contains cholesterol.

“Light/Lite/Fat-free”: Some low-fat products are high in kilocalories. One nondairy beverage product, while free from fat, contains 160 kilocalories per eight-ounce glass. By comparison, one eight-ounce serving of nonfat cow’s milk contains 90 kilocalories. The extra kilocalories in nondairy beverages come from carbohydrates—usually in the form of simple sugars.

“Tofu”: Some products claiming to be tofu nondairy beverages have sugar or sweetener as their first ingredient, oil as their second ingredient, calcium carbonate (a calcium supplement) as their third ingredient, and finally tofu as the fourth, fifth, or sixth ingredient. This may mean that tofu nondairy beverages are mainly carbohydrates and oils, not tofu.


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2. Nussinow, J. “Moove Over Milk,” Vegetarian Journal (Jan/ Feb 1996): 14–15.
3. Messina, V. “A Compendium of Milk Substitutes,” Issues in Vegetarian Dietetics 1, no. 4 (1992): 7.
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5. Shurtless, W. and A. Aoyagi. “Tofu and Soy Milk Production,” Soyfood Center.
6. Singh, T. and G. S. Bains. “Grain Extract-Milk Beverage: Processing and Physiochemical Characteristics,” Journal of Food Science 53, no. 5: 1387–1390.

By the General Conference Nutrition Council