This week our focus is on adjusting to a dairy-free diet, covering concerns about Calcium and the pros and cons of milk substitutes. Guidelines for a lactose-free diet are included for those who might otherwise tolerate dairy since this is quite a common issue.
Doing Dairy-Free Well
Fortunately, we live in a day and age where dairy substitutes are more readily available than ever before. The key is to consume a variety of dairy alternatives and ensure they contain natural ingredients. The real alternatives to cow’s milk are of course goat and sheep milk products. However, in the case of cow’s milk allergy, these can still be problematic foods. The recommendations here are focused on predominantly plant-based alternatives to dairy.
Tips on how to go Dairy-Free
- Vegan products are a guarantee of dairy-free
- Prescription and over-the-counter medications often contain lactose
- Read labels carefully for hidden sources of dairy. Look out for words other than milk or butter that indicate the presence of lactose or cow’s milk including ghee, whey, hydrolysed whey, casein, caseinate, beverage whitener, lactalbumin, rennet and curds
- Watch for products like dips, salad dressings, flavoured chips, some bread and baked foods, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, instant soups, confectionery and biscuits, salad dressings, sausages, gravy, drink mixes and margarine.(1)
Replace butter with
- avocado, nut butter or hummus as a spread
- applesauce or mashed banana in baking
- coconut and olive oil in cooking
Replace plain and flavoured yoghurt with
- coconut yoghurt
- soy yoghurt
- cashew cream (try homemade)
- tofu cream
Replace cheese with
- cashew cheese
- nutritional yeast
- vegan cream cheese
What about Calcium?
Calcium-rich non-dairy foods can help with dietary adequacy, while calcium-fortified foods such as soy milk, firm or silken tofu and orange juice can be a good addition. Calcium supplementation may also be necessary for certain populations such as pregnant, breastfeeding and post-menopausal women.
Good sources of non-dairy calcium-rich foods include:(1,2)
- shellfish and bony fish (eg. tinned salmon or sardines with bones)
- leafy green vegetables including broccoli, kale, bok choy, collards and turnip greens
- nuts and seeds, specifically almonds and sesame seeds
- red and white beans including kidney, pinto and chickpeas
- blackstrap molasses
Milk alternatives and their pros and cons
There is no perfect substitute for cow’s milk in terms of its nutritional properties. The closest in terms of protein content is soy milk. While the benefits of plant-based milk products are that they are low in saturated fat and cholesterol(3), the disadvantages depend on the quality of the product consumed. Generally, plant milk is higher in kilojoules due to a high content of oil and added sugar. In fact, sugar content can be equal to that of sugar-sweetened beverages. Opting for an oil-free and unsweetened brand will improve the nutritional value of the product. Plant milk is also lower in iodine, potassium, phosphorus and selenium (3) and so a varied and balanced diet must be implemented to ensure these nutritional needs are met from other food sources.
Non-dairy beverages are commonly derived from almond, cashew, coconut, hazelnut, hemp, macadamia, oat, rice and soy. Most options are low in protein. Keeping a few on rotation for different recipes, sourcing organic brands where possible and choosing products with minimal ingredients is a good rule of thumb. The rest comes down to taste preference!
If you’ve had an official diagnosis of lactose intolerance and can clearly distinguish that lactose is your only issue, here’s how to keep an eye on your intake of dairy products that aren’t lactose-free. Milk may be more problematic since it is higher in lactose, while the lactose in yoghurt is digested more efficiently due to the lactase present as a result of probiotic bacteria. Cheese on the other hand has negligible lactose.(3) The lactose threshold will vary from person to person. The majority of people can tolerate up to 5g of lactose per single dose or approximately the equivalent of 100mL of milk.(1)
When testing your lactose threshold it is recommended to trial:(1)
- 125 g (half a cup) maximum for milk and yogurt
- 100 g fresh kinds of cheese
- 50 g hard and aged cheeses
Don’t know if Dairy Free is for you?
Our practitioners are well versed in all things dairy-free and can help you to see the bigger picture when it comes to symptoms, eating habits and any need for supplementation. Diet change can have a profound effect so doing dairy free the right way can make all the difference to your health and wellbeing.