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The 4 Best Substitutes For Milk

Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights
  • After 1977, many people stopped drinking full-fat milk to avoid saturated fats. While some forms of saturated fat are bad for you, others, like C15:0, are actually associated with health benefits. 
  • Some of the best milk alternatives include soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and oat milk, each with its own benefits and drawbacks.
  • Regardless of which milk you choose, the odds are that you’re not getting enough C15:0 in your diet, which is why we recommend fatty15 to ensure that you get the right amount of fatty acids even without drinking milk.

If you were born after 1977, we’re betting you probably poured skim milk over your cereal as a kid. As an adult, you likely continued the tradition of low fat milk, or maybe even switched to a milk alternative like soy or almond.  If we asked you why you never drank whole milk you might, like the rest of us, shrug your shoulders and simply answer, “Because whole fat milk is not healthy.” 

We can offer a little background information as to what started our society’s avoidance of whole fat milk in the first place.

In the 1950’s, Americans were suffering from heart disease; in fact, it was the number one killer.  Americans were scared, and the government stepped in and offered nutritional guidelines based on research that suggested the fat in our diets was making us sick. 

In 1977, the government issued nutritional guidelines to 220 million Americans. Basically, the guidelines said, "Stop eating fat, especially saturated fat."  And we listened.  Butter, whole fat milk, and full fat cheese became taboo. In the 20-year period that followed these government recommendations, Americans made a four-fold decrease in their consumption of full fat milk. 

Unfortunately, it now appears that we got it wrong.  Not only did decreasing our total dairy fat intake not make our populations healthier, but the incidence of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity rose - especially among younger people.  Maybe the world was wrong about vilifying dietary fats, or at least some of them.

Good Fat vs. Bad Fat

The problem is, when we started avoiding fat in our diet, we started avoiding all fat. 

As it turns out, not all fat is bad; in fact, some fats are essential for our bodies, which means your body needs these nutrients to maintain health but can’t make them on its own.  The classic example of “good” essential fats are the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (specifically, alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid). 

A growing body of scientific evidence now supports C15:0 (also called pentadecanoic acid) as the first essential fatty acid to be discovered in 90 years.  C15:0’s essentiality is surprising because it is an odd-chain saturated fatty acid.  We know what you’re thinking, “Saturated fat is bad, right?”  Well, it now appears that only some types of saturated fats are unhealthy for us, and it all has to do with the number of carbon atoms each fat molecule carries. 

Even-chain saturated fatty acids (molecules with an even number of carbon atoms, like C16:0) continue to be associated with an increased risk of inflammation, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.  In contrast, odd-chain saturated fatty acids -- like C15:0 -- have been associated with a plethora of positive health benefits, like cardiovascular health, balanced immunity, healthy metabolism, red blood cell health, and liver health.*  Science supports that these benefits are due to C15:0's promotion of health at the cellular level and can help support our cells as they age.*

While evidence supports that we need adequate C15:0 in our diets to meet our general health needs, C15:0 is a trace fatty acid found primarily in whole fat dairy products like butter and whole fat milk.  There’s a caveat, however: whole fat dairy products also contain much higher levels of even-chain saturated fatty acids.

Is there a milk alternative that can give us the good saturated fats we want and not the bad fats we don’t need?  The best way for you to get good odd-chain saturated fatty acids without the “bad” even-chain  saturated fats back into your diet may be to use a supplement

Best Milk Alternatives and Why

Maybe you’re vegan.  Maybe you have a lactose intolerance.  Maybe you simply don’t like the taste of whole milk.  Whatever the reason, you’re looking for the best milk alternative for you.  Here are four milk alternatives based on nutrition profile, taste, and health benefit.

  • Soy milk.  Soy milk is the oldest milk alternative we’ve got.  It’s been around since the 1970’s.  Soy milk is made from soybeans and has a nutrient dense profile similar to milk, but with about half the fat and carbs, making it lower in calories than regular whole milk. Soy milk contains about 0.5 grams of saturated fat per 8 ounce cup, which unfortunately doesn’t make it a great source of C15:0.  However, the taste is arguably the closest to the cow as you will find in an alternative milk source. There’s a caveat here; soy has been the topic of much debate as to whether or not it is healthful to our bodies.  Much research has been done to determine if soy is actually detrimental to our health, especially women’s health, because soy interacts with estrogen receptors in the body.  Although there’s still no conclusive evidence that soy is inherently bad for us, it’s something to consider when choosing an alternate milk source.
  • Almond milk.  Almond milk arrived on the scene in the early 2000s and has gained increased popularity since, bypassing soy milk by about $970 million in revenue in 2018.  This increase in popularity is likely due to its overall quality as a milk alternative, and also due to the potential perceived negative health impacts of soy. Almond milk doesn’t have the nutrient rich profile that whole milk or even soy milk can offer.  It contains less than ¼ of the calories of whole milk, and less than ½ the fat.  Almond milk contains a large amount of vitamin E which is essential in helping your body fight off free radicals. If you’re looking for an alternative milk that has a bovine milk taste, this isn’t it.  Almond milk has a sweet, nutty flavor that many find desirable, but it isn’t much like cow’s milk. The lighter formula of almond milk, however, makes it quite comparable to skim milk, making it a great alternative
  • Coconut Milk.  Coconut milk is made from the flesh of coconuts and water.  It has a light, nutty taste similar to almond milk, but distinctly coconut in flavor.  It contains the least amount of carbohydrates and proteins compared to other alternative milks, and it is rich in saturated fat. The saturated fat in coconut milk is mostly comprised of medium-chain triglycerides, which some research suggests may assist with weight loss.
  • Oat Milk. Oat milk is made by soaking oats in water, blending them, and then straining them, making for a just-creamy-enough, fiber-rich and nutrient-rich dair alternative. While it does have less protein than regular milk, it does have more protein compared to the other options mentioned above, at about 4g of protein per one cup serving. It’s also the most fiber-rich of the plant-based milks at about 2g fiber per serving, and it packs a punch with trace amounts of many essential vitamins and minerals such as some B vitamins and magnesium.

If you’ve decided on a milk alternative, chances are you aren’t getting enough C15:0 (if at all) in your diet.  We can help. 

Elevate your cells. Elevate your self.

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In response to a growing body of science supporting C15:0 as an essential fatty acid, we developed a small (aka easy to take), once a day supplement that is the first and only of its kind: fatty15.

Fatty15 contains only one ingredient -- FA15TM -- a pure powder, vegan-friendly, and non-lactose containing form of C15:0, which allows you to reap the health benefits of C15:0, regardless of the milk type or milk alternative that you choose.  Taking this simple supplement once a day can give your cells the essential nutrient they need to stay strong and function properly by strengthening your cell membranes, boosting your mitochondria, and supporting cellular homeostasis.* 

It’s time to support your general health and begin aging on your own terms regardless of the milk you choose, and it starts by giving your cells a fighting chance with fatty15







Profile photo for Eric Venn-Watson

Eric Venn-Watson M.D.

Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.

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