Known as Lactose intolerance, it occurs in those who lack an enzyme called lactase, which we need to be able to digest lactose (which is a sugar found in milk). Symptoms of lactose intolerance may include a range of gastro-intestinal issues.

A milk allergy, on the other hand, is a food allergy, an adverse immune reaction to one or more of the constituents of milk from any animal – most commonly alpha S1-casein, a protein in cow’s milk. As opposed to lactose intolerance, a milk-induced allergic reaction can involve a range of allergy reactions, including anaphylaxis.

Tips for Going Lactose- or Milk-free. If you need to kick-start a lactose- or milk-free diet for yourself or your family, there are many options available – but the most important first step is to learn what to look for on the label and how these drinks stack up in terms of taste and nutrition. Milk alternatives can be a nutritious option, but they can also contain more sugar and less protein than you or your family needs.

Follow these tips to find the right milk alternative choice for you:

Choose a Milk Look-alike. If you are using these beverages as a replacement for regular milk, the more they resemble milk nutritionally, the better! Look for the protein and fat contents, and also look for a milk alternative that is labelled as “fortified” to ensure you get essential minerals and vitamins, like calcium and vitamins A, B12 and D.

Watch Out for Sugar. A cup of milk has roughly 12 g of sugar in the form of lactose, while flavoured milk-alternative drinks can contain more than 20 g of sugar per cup! Labels that state “original” or “unsweetened” often have less sugar than the chocolate or vanilla varieties, and some even contain less sugar than cow’s milk.

Don’t Avoid Good-For-You Fat. Almost all fats in soy and other milk alternatives are heart-healthy unsaturated fats, whereas milk contains mostly saturated fat. So, don’t worry if the label doesn’t read “low-fat” and focus on the unsaturated fat values instead.

Go Organic. Opting for an organic version of your milk alternative will mean your plant-based milk alternative is produced without using any herbicides or pesticides. Don’t assume that because a milk alternative is less allergenic that it is therefore produced using “cleaner” products. Soy in particular is a crop that, when farmed commercially, may be a source of trace pesticides or herbicides – so organic is a great choice to consider when buying soy milk.

Milk Alternative Choices

Soy Milk: This is made from soybeans that have been soaked, ground and strained to produce a fluid called soybean milk. A good source of high-quality protein and B vitamins, soy is also a good source of iron. Many soy beverages are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and also contain omega-3 fatty acids. Soy milk has become a popular substitute for individuals who cannot tolerate cow’s milk.

Almond Milk: Almond milk works as a great alternative for those with soy and lactose allergies. Almond milk contains a variety of vitamins and minerals that help your body grow stronger bones and teeth. Almonds naturally contain high levels of potassium, vitamin E, and calcium. Look for varieties that are fortified with vitamin D for optimum nutrition. Almond milk has no saturated fat and is also low in sodium. It can also be a low-sugar option if you choose an unsweetened variety. Note that almond milk is not a significant source of protein or fat, so it’s typically not a recommended alternative for growing bodies.

Rice Milk: Rice milk is a type of grain milk made from rice. It is naturally lower in protein and calcium in comparison to regular milk. Rice milk is lactose-free and suitable for vegetarians and vegans. If you are choosing rice milk, select a variety that has been fortified with vitamins and minerals such as calcium, vitamins B12 and B3, and Iron.

Coconut Milk: The health benefits of coconuts are just beginning to be understood. Although coconut contains saturated fat, a closer look shows that the saturated fat in coconut milk may not pose a health problem and may in fact be beneficial by speeding up metabolism. But coconut is also not a significant source of protein, so if you’re using as a milk substitute, it’s important to get protein from other dietary sources.

Are you lactose intolerant or allergic to milk? Discover a wide range of milk alternative products in our Natural Source department.