Age Wise

The Truth About Nondairy Milk

Alternatives to cow’s milk are flowing off store shelves, but they’re not all healthy

Robert Roy Britt
Published in
8 min readOct 21, 2021
Photo: Austin Wilcox / Unsplash

Touring the dairy aisle at my local supermarket the other day revealed an utter bevy of New Age milks that have never oozed from an udder, including numerous almond-based amalgams, copious coconut concoctions, and oodles of oat options (oat nog, anyone?). Several other seedy, grainy, and nutty alt-milks are creeping into the fringes.

It’s turning into the nondairy section, with a few gallons of regular ol’ cow’s milk practically put out to pasture, relegated to a few bottom shelves so the unenlightened must bend over.

U.S. sales of this bewildering array of fancy-schmancy plant-based milk products — many with unhealthy added ingredients — grew 20% last year to $2.5 billion, snagging 15% of the total milk market. Sales of oat milk, the latest darling among alt-milk enthusiasts, soared 170%.

Younger adults are leading the new milky way. While only half of Americans 55 and older have ever tried nondairy alternatives, 92% of the 18-to-34 set are into alt-milks, according to a survey by the International Food Information Council.

Tastes they are a-changin’

The reasons for the shift are far from homogenized. The polling firm Morning Consult asked people why they switched to alts, allowing multiple answers:

45%: Better taste
38%: Healthier
33%: Easier to digest
26%: Better for the planet
22%: Lactose intolerance
15%: Recipes call for it
12%: Heard it from a friend

I’m among the 65% of humans who don’t produce sufficient amounts of an enzyme called lactase, which is needed to digest lactose, the sugar that occurs naturally in milk. It’s not pretty: Gas, bloating, diarrhea (which explains why I was loitering in the nondairy aisle). Yes, lactose-free milk offers the same key nutrients, but check to see if sugar has been added to replace the natural sweetness lost.



Robert Roy Britt

Founder/editor of Wise & Well on Medium & the Writer's Guide at & author of Make Sleep Your Superpower