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18 January 2022

I used to love dairy, what healthy Overcoming MS-friendly alternatives are available?

There are so many dairy-free options available that avoiding dairy doesn't need to mean that you miss out on the food you love.

Overcoming MS strongly advises that people with MS avoid dairy in their diet because research shows a high correlation between MS symptoms and dairy products, specifically because of particular proteins in cow’s milk. Here you can read an easy list of foods to enjoy and avoid on the Overcoming MS program

There are plenty of dairy alternatives to enjoy, and the options keep on growing. 

Dairy-free Milk Options

While soy products offer the highest protein and are better for baking, some people think almond or rice milk taste better on cereal. Check the ingredients as some alternative milks contain oils which are restricted on the Overcoming MS Program. 

Here's some pros and cons of some of the dairy-free milk options.

Almond Milk

✔ Nutty flavour, which can taste nice in cereal or hot chocolate but doesn’t work for every recipe

✔ You can buy sweetened or unsweetened almond milk

✔ Good in coffee and hot drinks

✔ Low in fat and calories

X Often more expensive than other milks – watch out as cheaper versions bulk out with thickeners and have low almond content

X Can also split when heated

Oat Milk

✔ A versatile option

✔ Sweet

✔ Lowers cholesterol

✔ Heats well and doesn’t curdle

✔ Good for smoothies, soups and cereal

✔ Good in a cup of tea as it doesn’t have a strong flavour and doesn’t curdle

X Lower in protein 

Rice Milk

✔ Thinner and more watery

✔ Good in desserts if you want a thickening agent

✔ Nice refreshing drink on its own

X  Higher in sugar 

X  Low levels on arsenic – the Food Standards Agency advises against children under four-and-a-half having it at all

Soy Milk

✔ Widely available option

✔ Can get sweetened or unsweetened

✔ Best for baking due to higher protein content

✔ Found to be the more nutritious plant milk

X Can be a common allergen

X Watch out for added oils in some brands

X Can split in hot drinks 

Hemp Milk

✔ Creamy

✔ Good for hot drinks

✔ Good in savoury recipes

✔ Rich in Omega 3 

X Low in protein 

Hazelnut Milk

✔  Similar to Almond but less widely available

✔  Nuttier and richer than almond milk

Cashew Milk

✔ Similar to almond 

Coconut Milk

X We do not recommend coconut milk due to the high saturated fat content

Hot drink lover?

Barista editions of plant-based milks are specifically made for hot drinks – they are generally more expensive than the other version. they often have more additives. They are designed to foam and froth by adding a specific salt. 

There are also some specific teabags which are blended for dairy-free milks.

Why not try making your own plant-based milks at home?

There are lots of easily-available commercial milks but you may choose to make your own at home.

Benefits include: 

  • Cheaper 
  • Fresh 
  • You know what has been added

You can use a blender and nut milk bags (or even sheer socks) or even a plant-based milk maker, which can make life easier. You can make fresh soy milk in 15 minutes, you can also make almond, cashew, hazelnut milks. 

You can find full recipes online but these are the basic steps. 

  1. Soak nuts, seeds or grains
  2. Blend with water
  3. Sweeten to taste with dates of sweetener of choice
  4. Strain out fibre using nut bag. (A plant based milk maker means you don’t have to strain.)

Other dairy-free products

Dairy-Free Yogurt

There are many dairy-free yogurts options out there – make sure you check the ingredients for hidden additives. Coconut yogurt is not recommended if you are following the Overcoming MS program.

  • Soy yogurt
  • Almond milk yogurt
  • Cashew yogurt 

Dairy-Free Cream

Replacing cream is a bit more of a challenge, but most health food stores will carry some sort of non-dairy cream, such as those made from soy or oats (rice for desserts). Make sure to look at the ingredients, though, as many of these products contain too many unhealthy alternatives and chemicals.

  • Cashew Cream

Dairy-Free Cheese

Beware – vegan ‘cheeses’ can contain a lot of unhealthy oils

  • Cashew cheese
  • Sunflower seed cheese 
  • Silken tofu can replace chesse in some recipes 
  • Nutritional yeast is commonly used as a cheese flavouring substitute
  • You can also use the following for adding flavour: dijon mustard, miso paste, fermented food and onion and garlic 

Replacing butter & margarine

Even though margarine is dairy-free, it is not recommended on the Overcoming MS program due to the hydrogenation process of the oil to solidify it, which creates unhealthy fats. You can read more about fats here.

On toast: 

  • Hummus
  • Carrot ‘butter’ or pumpkin puree 
  • Mashed banana 
  • Smashed avocado
  • Flaxseed oil (which has the additional omega-3 benefit
  • Jams
  • Spreads like Marmite or Vegemite 
  • Small amount of tahini
  • Homemade spreads made of vegetables or lentils
  • Sliced tomato on toast drizzled with some extra virgin olive oil, and with some fresh herbs 
  • You could also have fish such as tuna, pilchards, smoked salmon or sardines
  • Dairy-free pesto 
  • Tapenade 

In cooking: 

For butter you can get a similar rich flavor and texture from plant-based oil or even mashed bananas. As a rule, substitute extra virgin olive oil for butter in recipes – especially those that instruct you to melt the butter first.

  • Use 82% of the amount of oil to replace the butter called for in a recipe and add some kind of binding agent (a tbsp. of rice flour or ground flax seeds).
  • For sweeter recipes like muffins, use a fruit or vegetable puree (e.g. apple puree) as a replacement for the butter. Measure equal quantities.
  • In mashed potato, for example, you can add plant-based milk or extra virgin olive oil.

Ice cream 

  • ‘Nicecream’ – this is a replacement ice cream, a frozen dessert made with bananas. 
  • Soy or nut based ice cream – make sure there aren’t any unwanted additives or unhealthy oils.
  • Fruit sorbet – sorbet is made with flavoured frozen water instead of dairy. Sherbets, however, do contain some dairy. 


The dairy of content of chocolate means it is not recommended on the Overcoming MS Program. Additionally, even dark chocolate (without dairy) is not recommended due to the high saturated fat content of cocoa butter

What can I use instead? 

  • Cocoa nibs – are small pieces of crushed cacao beans which can add an intense chocolate flavour to recipes
  • High-flavonoid (70-85%) cocoa/cacoa powder
  • Coffee flavour

For suggested brands of dairy replacements why not check out the forum or talk to other others on the Overcoming MS Program.

Other tips:

Remember to consider taking iron and B12 supplements if you are following a fully vegan diet. 

Making recipes creamy without using dairy 

  • Blended cashews 
  • Non-dairy milk (see above)
  • Add extra virgin olive oil or flaxseed oil and emulsify 
  • Avocado 
  • Tahini

You can find more information in our FAQs below

  • Can I consume low fat dairy products on the Overcoming MS diet? 

It is not recommended to consume low fat dairy products on the Overcoming MS program as they still contains dairy – therefore butrophilin – the protein in cows milk which we advise avoiding if you have MS. Replace dairy products instead with plant-based alternatives such as soy, oat or almond. Processed ‘low fat’ products often have added sugar and other unhealthy ingredients, it is better to consume food that are naturally low in fat.

  • Can I have goat or sheep’s milk instead of cow’s milk on the Overcoming MS Program?

No. Cow, goat and sheep milk all appear to contain the same offending protein, butyrophilin, which causes harm to the immune system. Research has found that proteins in a range of animal milks similar to bovine butyrophilin (reference below). 


Reference: Heid HW, Winter S, Bruder G, Keenan TW, Jarasch ED. Butyrophilin, an apical plasma membrane-associated glycoprotein characteristic of lactating mammary glands of diverse species. Biochim Biophys Acta 1983;728:228-38

  • Should I consume lactose-free milk when following the Overcoming MS Program? 

Lactose-free milk is a dairy milk which has added lactase, and is made for people who lack the enzyme that breaks down lactose, which can cause lactose intolerance. It is not recommended to consume ‘lactose-free’ milk on the Overcoming MS program as it still contains dairy – therefore butrophilin – the protein in cows milk which we advise avoiding if you have MS. Replace dairy products instead with plant-based alternatives such as soy, oat or almond milk.

  • Why is soy permitted on Overcoming MS but not on other MS diets? 

Legumes, including soy, are extremely healthy foods and are full of protein. Consuming legumes is useful for people not eating animal products.

They have been used for centuries by many societies, and there is no clear documentation of any health problems associated with their use. Some have suggested that people with immune-based diseases should avoid them, but there appears to be no strong basis for this suggestion.

Soy in particular would appear to have many advantages over dairy products, and most studies suggest better health outcomes for those consuming soy products regularly.

  • Where can I get calcium from if I exclude dairy from my diet? 

There are many good sources of calcium encouraged in the Overcoming MS diet including: fish where you eat the bones, nuts, green leafy vegetables, fortified non-dairy drinks, tofu, tahini, pulses and dried fruits. Provided you are eating a balanced diet, you should be able to get the 700mg recommended per day for adults 19 to 64.

One problem with calcium in Western societies is the lack of sunlight. Sunlight results in vitamin D being produced in the body, and vitamin D’s main job is to absorb calcium from the diet. With adequate vitamin D from sun or supplements, there is no problem with inadequate calcium. Osteoporosis is also unlikely for people who get enough vitamin D.

  • Why is coconut milk not recommended?

Often hailed as a healthy oil in the media, coconut products actually contain a high percentage of saturated fat, which are excluded on the Overcoming MS program. A key issue with saturated fats is their melting point. If the melting point of a fat is above body temperature (37 C), then it will essentially behave in body cell membranes like a solid fat, making the cell membranes rigid, inflexible and sticky, thereby encouraging degeneration and inflammation. The common fats in coconut are lauric acid (with a melting point of 44.2 C) myristic acid (53.9 C) and palmitic acid (63.2 C). These fats are solid at body temperature and are likely to significantly worsen MS. We do not recommend them in any quantity. Instead, consume monounsaturated oils such as extra virgin olive oil.