Your Complete Guide to the Best Gluten Free Dairy Substitutions

Are you on a gluten free diet and also looking to eliminate dairy products?  If so, then this is your guide to gluten free dairy substitutions.  

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Celiac and Dairy Intolerance

If you have celiac disease, it's very possible, even likely that you are also lactose intolerant.  Celiac disease and lactose intolerance go hand in hand, especially in the months immediately after diagnosis.  

If you've tried lactose free products and are still having tummy troubles, then your problem might be casein, which is the protein in milk. 

In this article, I'll offer you lots of gluten free dairy substitutions that will work for both lactose and casein issues. Keep in mind though that the nutrients in milk are different than in these replacements, so you'll need to look for other sources for calcium and vitamins A, D and B complex. 

Gluten Free Substitutions for Milk 

Do you like milk on your cereal?  Do you like a tall cold glass of milk?  Are you looking for a milk alternative to use in cooking?  There are so many choices, it can get a bit confusing.

Lactose Free Cow's Milk

If you're like many newly diagnosed celiacs, you may have a temporary intolerance to cows milk.  This is because the celiac disease has damaged your small intestine causing a deficiency in the lactase enzyme which your body needs to digest lactose.

You'll find lactose free milk in your grocer's dairy case and you can use it exactly as you would use regular milk.  You may find it tastes a bit sweeter.  That's because an enzyme has been added to the milk to break down the lactose and convert it to sucrose.  Sucrose tastes sweeter than lactose. 

Milk from Other Animals

Cows are not the only animal that we get milk from.  All mammals produce milk.  We humans tend to rely on the hoofed ones like goats, sheep and even water buffalo.

The milk from these other mammals contains lactose, but in some cases might be a bit lower than cows milk.  Where these other milks are helpful, is for people with a casein intolerance as the casein in goat and sheep milk are different and often better tolerated.

Plant Based Milk Substitutes

This is where things can get a bit overwhelming.  There are so many options that it's hard to know what to go with.  You will see lots of controversy over what is the best plant based milk and why.

My advice is simply to try them and see what you like.

The first thing you may notice is the absence of the word "milk" on the label.  This depends on where you live, but many jurisdictions don't allow non-dairy products to be labelled as milk.  So, you may see them called "beverage" or "drink".

Watch for sugar content in these plant based milks.  It's up to you and your dietary needs of course, but if you're trying to keep your sugar intake under control then opt for unsweetened versions. 

Rice Milk Dairy Substitute

Rice milk is made by blending cooked rice with water and straining it through very fine cheesecloth.  You can even make it at home if you like.  Rice of course is gluten free so rice milk makes a good gluten free dairy substitution.  

Is rice milk good.  Sure, it's fine.  My personal opinion is that rice milks are a bit watery so it's not my first choice.

Oat Milk Dairy Substitute

Oats, like rice are a grain, but here you need to be careful.  Oats are often grown and processed alongside wheat so cross contamination is a problem.  If you're going to eat oats, make sure they are certified gluten free oats.  The same goes for oat milk. 

In 2022 there was a bit of upheaval in the gluten free oats market and many oat products that once carries a gluten free label have had to remove it.  This is due to the difficulty in sourcing certified gluten free oats worldwide.  Check the label to be sure your oat milk is made with gluten free oats.

As a substitute for cows milk, oat milk is one of my favorites.  I like the flavor and find the texture to be closer to cows milk than any of the others. 

Soy Milk Dairy Substitute

Soy milk is the most common dairy substitute and probably the first one that became available.  It's made similarly to rice milk by blending soy beans with water and straining.  Soy beans are gluten free and so is soy milk.

The consistency of soy milk is a bit more like cows milk and it's likely the one you'll find at the coffee shop.  There is some controversy over soy milk as soy beans contain phytoestrogen, a type of plant estrogen with might increase the estrogen levels in your body.  If you're concerned about this, talk to your doctor or consider a different dairy substitute. 

Almond, Cashew and Milk Dairy Substitutes

Making milk substitutes from nuts like almonds or cashews is also popular and these beverages taste great and work well in recipes or on your cereal.

The process is similar as for other plant based milks. The nuts are soaked until they are soft enough to blend with lots of water and strained. Almond milk is also keto friendly if you get the unsweetened version.  Cashew milk is not as cashews are technically legumes not nuts and to high in carbs to be keto friendly.

Coconut Milk Dairy Substitute

I've separated coconut milk out from the other nut milks because it is a bit of a special case.  As a staple in Asian and Caribbean cuisines, you'll find coconut milk in recipes for Thai curry, Indian curries and Jamaican rice and peas.  

You can buy coconut milk in cartons similar to other plant based milks.  This is what you'll use as a milk substitute to drink or put on your cereal.  Canned coconut milk is thicker and creamier and more likely to be used in place of cream.

Unsweetened coconut milk is low in carbohydrates so is keto friendly.   

Gluten Free Dairy Substitutions for Your Coffee

Do you find that the plant based milks don't quite cut it for your coffee?  I do.  I like the richness of cream in my coffee and some of the dairy substitutes above are too thin and watery. 

Here are some options to try:

Real Cream for Your Coffee

canned coconut milk and coffee mate

If you're lactose intolerant, you may find real cream is okay.  The higher the fat content, the lower the lactose making it easier to digest for lactase deficient celiacs.

Plant Based Creams for Your Coffee

Canned Coconut Milk

Canned coconut milk is an option.  It's thicker than the others so it gives you the color and richness that cream does in your coffee.  It's also keto friendly.  Coconut milk is not the perfect cream replacement though.  I've found it floats to the top a bit a gets an oily consistency, especially as my coffee cools.

Canned coconut milk is an option.  It's thicker than the others so it gives you the color and richness that cream does in your coffee.  It's also keto friendly.  Coconut milk is not the perfect cream replacement though.  I've found it floats to the top a bit a gets an oily consistency, especially as my coffee cools.

Coffee Whiteners

There are several liquid and powdered coffee whiteners on the market.  I personally am not a fan because they contain a lot of highly processed ingredients, but the powdered ones especially are convenient to travel with. Many coffee shops don't offer a non-dairy alternative or they offer almond or soy milk.  You may prefer to have your own powdered creamer in your purse or pocket.

Just check the labels.  Some of these products contain sodium caseinate which is made from milk.  It may be okay if you're lactose intolerant, but if you have a casein allergy you should avoid it. 

Gluten Free Dairy Substitutes for Cooking and Baking

thai chicken curry on spoon with bowl in background

Any recipe that calls for milk can be made with one of the plant based milks above.  Just substitute 1:1.  I suggest one of the richer plant based milks like oat or soy just because the texture is closer to cows milk, but the others will work too.

If you use canned coconut milk in place of cows milk, you may want to thin it out with a bit of water. 

Coconut milk also makes a good substitute for cream in gluten and dairy free cooking or baking.  Creamy sauces can be made with coconut milk.   In fact it's a staple in many Asian and Caribbean recipes. 

If you need sour milk, just add a tablespoon full of lemon juice to a cup of coconut milk and let it stand for about 10 minutes. 

Gluten Free Dairy Substitutions for Cheese


Hard cheeses are low in lactose but do contain casein. 

There are many vegan cheese substitutes on the market.  Slices that are good on sandwiches and shreds that work well on pizza or anywhere else you would use shredded cheese.  Most of these will be both gluten and dairy free but check the label just to be sure. 

Nutritional yeast has a cheesy flavor.  Mix with a little sea salt, garlic powder and ground nuts or seeds and sprinkle over your pasta or potato dish.  

Many cheeses are made from goat, sheep or buffalo milk.  If you have a casein intolerance like me, you may be okay with these other cheeses.  

Gluten Free Dairy Substitutions for Yogurt and Ice Cream

Yogurt and Dairy Free Yogurt


Yogurt has the lactobacillus bacteria which is a pro-biotic.  It helps to break down lactose in milk products.  So if you're lactose intolerant, you may be okay with yogurt.

If regular yogurt upsets your tummy, look for coconut yogurt.  I tastes great and has the lactobacillus bacteria just like regular yogurt and gives you your probiotic benefits just like regular yogurt.

Ice Cream and Dairy Free Ice Cream

Choose Premium

Premium brands of ice cream tend to use real cream where the cheaper brands use milk with emulsifiers to create the creamy texture we look for in ice cream.  The ones that use real cream have a higher fat content.  The higher the fat content the lower the lactose content.  All of this means that if you're lactose intolerant, you may be able to tolerate a small amount of premium ice cream.  Is that a great excuse to go for the good stuff or what? 

Plant Based Ice Cream

If regular ice cream doesn't work for you, look for coconut ice cream or ice cream made from other sources like cashews, soy or bananas.  You can also have sorbet as there is no dairy.

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