Those who follow the paleo diet know that there are a few murky food categories within the confines of eating a paleo lifestyle – and one of them is dairy. While some opt to include full-fat dairy products in their diet, most believe it’s best to be avoided altogether.
But that doesn’t mean people on the paleo diet can’t enjoy milk. With so many dairy-free milk alternatives on the market today, there are endless options to choose from. So which milk is the best fit for the paleo diet?
All about paleo
The paleo diet took America by storm 20 years ago, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Also known as the “caveman diet”, the concept of eating paleo has been around since the 70s, but it became much more popular and widespread in the early 2000s.
It can take on different levels of strictness, but the overall idea is to only eat the types of foods that hunters and gatherers ate back in the Paleolithic Era, and avoid anything that’s come along since the introduction of farming (which brought things like grains, legumes, and dairy to the human diet).
From a health standpoint, the paleo diet assumes the belief that these foods are harmful to our guts and that they cause and contribute to diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Whether you’re a strict paleo dieter or you’ve adapted to a more flexible version, you have alternative options when it comes to one of the main no-no’s: dairy.
Which non-dairy milks are paleo-friendly?
Non-dairy milk can come from so many different sources: nuts, seeds, legumes, grains, fruit. To start to determine which type of milk is best on the paleo diet, the first step is to weed out any products derived from those other food groups that are to be avoided on paleo.
Aside from dairy, soy, grains, legumes, and refined sugar should also be eliminated while on the paleo diet. So that makes products like soy milk, rice milk, and oat milk some of the worst milks for paleo. The good news is that with the plethora of options available today, there’s plenty still on the table.
Most plant-based milks that derive from nuts, seeds, and fruits can all be acceptable milk choices on the paleo diet; they all have different nutritional makeups and they all come with their own pros and cons. Here’s a complete list of non-dairy alternative milks that are safe for the paleo diet:
- Almond Milk
- Cashew Milk
- Hazelnut Milk
- Pistachio Milk
- Macadamia Milk
- Hemp milk
- Flax milk
- Coconut Milk
- Banana Milk
So if all of these alternative milks are considered paleo-friendly, how do you come to a verdict on which one is best? When considering milk for the paleo diet specifically, it comes down to which substitute is best for your gut and your overall health.
The final verdict: coconut milk
Almond milk and hemp milk tend to be popular choices for the paleo diet, but one overall favorite reigns supreme: coconut milk. Coconut is a fruit, but it can also be considered a nut…and a seed – so coconut milk is technically paleo-friendly three times over! It’s made by extracting the liquid from the coconut’s white, meaty flesh.
This is the most popular milk alternative for those on the paleo diet because coconut milk is not only creamy and delicious, but also easier to digest for many, and rich in nutrition. It’s packed with fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. It’s a good source of iron, magnesium, calcium, selenium, and phosphorus, as well as C, E, and B vitamins.
Coconut milk is hydrating, immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory, and heart-healthy. While it’s high in saturated fat, that comes in the form of essential fatty acids, which help the digestive system function and have been linked to weight loss.
Because of its fat content, it’s a good choice for replacing dairy in a diet. Just keep in mind that coconut milk doesn’t come with any protein – but since the paleo diet allows for protein-rich foods like meat, fish, eggs, and nuts, you can make sure you’re getting enough protein from other food sources.
A few caveats about coconut milk
There are few things to look out for when it comes to coconut milk. First, there are different types of coconut milk available – canned coconut milk is thicker and creamier, and generally better for cooking; coconut milk beverages that come in cartons are a thinner consistency, with less coconut content, which are better suited as a true milk substitute.
When buying coconut milk, it’s important to check the labels and watch out for any unnecessary additives which aren’t paleo-approved. Avoid things like added sugars, artificial thickeners, gums, and preservatives – do your best to stick to ingredient lists that only contain coconut and water (the fewer ingredients the better). If you’re buying cans, look for BPA-free.
Unfortunately, many store-bought products will contain these ingredients, but it’s possible to find brands who sell pure coconut milk. And when in doubt, you can always make your own coconut milk at home to ensure it’s 100% paleo-friendly.
No, soy milk is made from soybeans, which are classified as a legume. Since the paleo diet avoids all legumes, soy milk is not considered a paleo-friendly milk alternative.
Oat milk is not considered a paleo-friendly milk substitute because oats are a grain, and the paleo diet does now allow for grains.
Nut milks, seed milks, and fruit milks are all paleo-friendly. These include non-dairy milks like almond milk, cashew milk, hazelnut milk, macadamia milk, pistachio milk, hemp milk, flax milk, banana milk, and coconut milk.