The Gluten Free, Casein Free Diet – Milk Substitutions

If you have celiac disease and are not experiencing a full recovery on a gluten free diet, then casein, a protein in cow’s milk may be the culprit. Many of you have already figured this out and are already on a gluten free, casein free diet, or at least a casein-reduced diet. For those of you who haven’t eliminated dairy products, it’s probably worth trying.

Thankfully, it’s not at all difficult to use non-dairy substitutes in baking. We had a cow-milk free house for 4 years, and I often use non-dairy substitutes when I’m baking, In fact, I rarely notice now when a recipe calls for a dairy product; I automatically reach for the non-dairy substitute without even thinking about it. Recent reader emails and comments have reminded me that I haven’t ever written a post about how to make dairy substitutions in gluten free recipes, so here goes:

Part 1: Non-Dairy Substitutions for Cow’s Milk:Cereal bowl with apple, raspberries & soy milk
Photo by Andurinha

As a nation, our cow milk consumption starts with breakfast – milk in the cereal bowl. Non-dairy milk alternatives are becoming much more readily available, even in rural areas. We try to rotate through the non-dairy milks since our kids drink a lot of “milk” and we want to avoid creating new allergies through overuse of a single ingredients. Some of the “milks” that we like are: almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, and rice milk. I’ve also seen hemp milk and flax milk in Walmart lately, but we haven’t tried them.

If you have access to different brands of a particular non-dairy milk, then I highly suggest that you try them all before deciding that you do or do not like them. We loved Silk products but detest 8th Continent. The Publix and Walmart private label non-dairymilks are both good, but each has a discernibly different taste. Different milks have different textures too. Almond milk is often thick, while rice milk is very thin and watery (it tastes better than it looks).

Many non-dairy milks come in Vanilla, Original, and Unsweetened Flavors. The vanilla flavor may be a good stepping stone if your palate needs some help adjusting to the flavor of a non-dairy milk. However, you will probably find that Vanilla becomes cloyingly sweet after awhile and you can then transition to the Original Flavor. Unsweetened is best saved for cooking and baking.

As with any processed food, be sure to read the label to make sure that the non-dairy milks do not contain wheat, barley or rye. Most do not….but some do.

Non-dairy milks are often priced higher than cow milk, but that price differential can often be overcome with coupons if you are willing to use whichever brand is currently on sale and/or offering a coupon. When I lived in Birmingham and could shop at Publix I was usually able to get non-dary milks for $2 for a half-gallon by combining coupons and sales. Unfortunately prices are much higher in the rural grocery stores that I now frequent, and the non-dairy milks never go on sale. Ugh!

Substituting Milk in Baking:

When you see milk in a recipe, you generally have two options. Substitute a non-dairy milk for the cow milk, or replace the cow milk with water. The main function of milk in a recipe is to provide liquid. Milk makes a recipe more rich and flavorful, so if that is an important aspect of the recipe then you would want to replace the cow milk with a non-dairy milk. A good example of this is Easter Bread. The usual liquid in bread is water, but Easter Bread uses milk instead and as a result the bread is sweeter, more tender, and much more special. Milk also tenderizes, which is why it’s usually used in biscuits.

Rice Milk Recipe.
Photo by RyanIsHungry
In other recipes, the milk can easily be replaced with water. When I first started making homemade gluten free pizza crusts I used milk as the liquid. One night when I was out of milk I used water instead and realized that the pizza was just as good with water. Since water is much less expensive than milk, I always use water in that recipe now.

I like unsweetened non-dairy milks for most baking, but Original flavored milk is usually an acceptable alternative. Avoid the Vanilla flavor for baking – it has too much sugar and vanilla flavoring to work as a 1:1 substitute for cow milk.

If you’re not sure whether you should use water or a non-dairy milk in a particular recipe, just make a choice and see what happens. Since they are both liquids, you’re not likely to end up with a failure either way. Seriously, for four years I had a veritable revolving door of soy milk, rice milk, and almond milk in my refrigerator. When I needed milk for a recipe, I grabbed whichever container was the nearest and used it. I cannot remember any recipes turning out badly as a result, except when I used a milk that I didn’t like (8th Continent soymilk- yuck!) in a pizza recipe. So, use whatever you have, except for nasty soy milk in pizza crust recipes.

Come back for Part 2: Non-Dairy Substitutes for Butter



  1. Wonderful post! My sister is both gluten and lactose intolerant – this is a great help!

  2. Janice McIntyre says:

    I have been gluten and dairy free for about six months now. Coconut milk is an excellent substitution when making homemade ice cream and I like soy creamer even better than regular creamer in my coffee. The only thing I miss desperately is cheese. There is just no good substitute. Does your research say anything about raw cows milk or goat cheese?

  3. John McConnell says:

    How long would you suggest trying to be cow milk free to decide if it’s something you should avoid? Is a week adequate? Thanks for the info!!

  4. I stared a completely dairy free diet(minus eggs) a few months before I started my Gluten-Free diet. I’m still very new to both but so far am happy with the results that I am seeing. My dairy free diet started after a discussion I had with my chiropractor. Between the way I was feeling and the following information that he brought to my attention made me want to try out a dairy free diet. The thing brought up that I never realized was this. Humans are the only animals who consume milk/dairy products are infancy and consume milk from another species. After hearing this, it made me realize that maybe as humans we aren’t suppose to be consuming dairy products past infancy and this is why many humans suffer from issues when having dairy products.
    Even though I miss many of the dairy products as stated above there are MANY products that are substitutes for dairy. I honestly find that almond milk is a great substitute for milk in cereal. I also use EathBalance no dairy spread. I use this as substitute for baking.

  5. Angela Berry says:


    I would like to know how I can tag some of your newsletters or blogs to Facebook… I have a few older family members who have recently had to also go on a GF diet and lack internet research knowledge. I know that they could greatly benefit from your blogs, newsletters, etc. just as much as I have. If you could give me some insight on how to do this, I would love to help spread your knowledge.


  6. do you know of a good replacement for dry milk in a recipe? the recipe I have has yogurt and dry milk…no other “wet” ingredients except eggs and oil. i can replace the yogurt with a non dairy yogurt… but the dry milk I was wondering If i could replace it with maybe a protein powder or GF flour of somekind? the recipe recommended DariFree, but thats not available in my store and I ordered some but it hasnt come in yet…. plus its pricey… do you have any experience with this?

  7. I have a son with a dairy allergy, so we’ve had to make GF, DF baked goods for a while now. I’ve had a lot of success using just water for pancakes, waffles and other baked goods (haven’t done bread yet). The soymilk that I was using actually gave a worse texture than the water. I also make sure to have a little extra oil to make up for the lack of fat from the milk, so maybe that is part of the difference.

    It would be interesting to come up with a substitute with a similar pH, fat content, and sugar content to milk (and butter milk!) that one could use pretty much interchangeably for great results because most of the chemistry would line up. Surely something like this could be made at home, right? What do you think?

    On a more pertinent note, giving up cheese has been the hardest

  8. Astonishingly educational many thanks, I reckon your audience may well want a good deal more content like this carry on the excellent work.

  9. I use rice milk for everything. I never thought to use water for some recipes. I’ll try it next time I make pizza. Thanks for saving me a little more hard earned cash.

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