If you’re trying to give up milk and dairy or just wanting to reduce how much milk you drink, breaking the milk habit may be harder than you thought. There are several reasons for this. Here are nine reasons why you might be craving milk. We’ll also give you some tips on how to avoid drinking milk or simply reduce your consumption.
1. You’re thirsty
Milk is about 87 percent water. This is why a tall glass of cold milk is a satisfying way to quench thirst. If you’re craving milk, you may just be thirsty.
Hydrate with a glass of water instead. Or “eat” your water by reaching for a piece of fruit. Apples, melons, oranges, and other fruits are up to 89 percent water. Fruit and milk have a similar carbohydrate content, but fruit is full of fiber that slows down absorption and extends satiety. Fruit also contains antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that milk does not.
2. You’re hungry
If your stomach is rumbling, milk is also a quick way to soothe hunger pangs. It’s a good source of proteins and fats. A cup of milk provides more than 8 grams of protein and up to 7 grams of fat. You might crave milk because it helps you feel full and comfortable.
Curb your appetite with filling meals made with whole foods instead. Foods such as grilled chicken or salmon, quinoa, nuts, seeds, beans, and avocados provide healthy fiber, protein, and fat.
3. You’re craving sugar
Your body may actually be craving carbohydrates or sugars, and not milk. A cup of 1 percent fat milk has about 13 grams of sugar or simple carbohydrates. This natural sugar is called lactose. It gives milk a mildly sweet taste. Lactose is also known as milk sugar. Milk is made up of up to 8 percent lactose.
In the body, lactose is broken down into glucose, a simpler sugar. Glucose is the main power source for every organ, including the brain. This simple carbohydrate also helps to feed the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut, specifically Bifidobacterium, and it can increase production of short-chain fatty acids.
Keep sugar cravings at bay by replacing milk sugars with other healthy carb sources. These include whole grain bread, oats, sweet potatoes, and fruit.
4. It’s a comfort food
You may be craving milk because you’re having slight withdrawal symptoms. However, it’s not just in your head. Research shows that foods with a combination of fats and sugars trigger reward centers in the brain. Milk may be a “comfort food” for you for this reason.
Although lactose — milk sugar — is only about 20 percent as sweet as cane sugar, it can still feed sugar cravings. Milk is also a good source of natural fats. This may also help to explain why dairy products such as ice cream are very common foods for emotional eating.
5. Black coffee just isn’t the same
While there are many plant-based types of milk on the market, it may take some time to find one that you like. Some types of “milk” may have a distinct taste or a different texture than animal-based milk. Most vegan milk alternatives are not as creamy or dense as milk. This is because they don’t contain the same amounts or types of fats and proteins.
If you can only drink plant-based milk, try adding a half-teaspoon of coconut milk or emulsified MCT oil before steaming or blending your coffee or latte. This adds healthy fats, which makes it creamier and helps it froth better.
6. You’re lacking vitamins and minerals
Milk is considered a complete food because it packs 18 out of 22 essential vitamins and minerals. Your body can’t make these essential nutrients, which include vitamin A, vitamin B-12, calcium, magnesium, and zinc, and must get them from food.
A craving for milk might be a sign that your diet lacks some of these nutrients. Plan your meals with a weekly food diary and talk to a registered dietitian nutritionist to make sure you’re eating a balanced daily diet.
7. You’ve just eaten something spicy
If you’ve just bitten into a jalapeño or chili pepper, you probably want to reach for milk instead of water. The hot or burning sensation in spicy foods is due to capsaicin. Milk helps put out the fire better than water and other beverages because it contains fats.
Try limiting spicy foods to prevent milk cravings. Nut milk also contains natural fats. A swig of almond, coconut, flax, or cashew milk can help cool down your tongue after a spicy meal.
8. You have heartburn
Heartburn, acid reflux, and peptic or stomach ulcers are common health problems of the digestive tract. These disorders can cause pain, discomfort, and indigestion. You may reach for milk if you have heartburn or ulcer pain. Drinking milk can be soothing because it coats the lining of the stomach and intestines. However, this relief is only temporary.
Milk can actually make your symptoms worse. This happens because it makes the stomach produce more acid, and relaxes the round sphincter muscles that keep acid from splashing up.
Ask your doctor about the best way to treat your stomach conditions. You may need medications such as antacids, probiotics, or antibiotics. In some cases, not enough stomach acid is the root cause of symptoms, in which case supplemental hydrochloric acid may be needed. Making changes to your daily diet such as eating more fiber and reducing your fat intake may also help.
9. You’re used to having it
When you’re in a routine of eating or drinking something every day, your body and brain come to expect it. This is a habit that becomes an automatic process, and you may find yourself wandering over to the refrigerator even when you don’t feel particularly hungry or thirsty. The good news is that food cravings are usually brief, lasting only about three to five minutes. Distract yourself and wait it out until the urge passes. Or stock up on healthier or preferred alternatives like plant-based milk, sparkling water, or tea. When you feel the milk craving, reach for your alternative.
As with all lifestyle changes, take small and consistent steps every day to help make new healthy habits stick. Ensure that you’re eating a balanced diet. Add other nutrient-rich foods when you remove any whole food, including milk.
A blood test can help make sure you’re not low in any vitamin or mineral. Ask your doctor if this is recommended for you.
Replace milk with a suitable alternative to help stop the cravings. If you’re giving up cow’s milk due to an intolerance or allergy, ask your dietitian if other types of milk such as goat’s milk, plant-based milk, or lactose-free milk are right for you.
Try various types and combinations of plant-based milks to find one that you prefer. Ask friends and family who have gone vegan for their input.