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What are Dairy Alternatives for Lactose Intolerance?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Lactose intolerance is a condition characterized by difficulty digesting lactose, which is the major sugar found in milk. Some populations including Asians are much more susceptible to lactose intolerance, due to historical differences in diet. A wide variety of dairy alternatives have been developed for those who suffer from lactose intolerance, with many products being quite delicious.

Sufferers of lactose intolerance usually experience intestinal discomfort after consuming dairy products, making the condition relatively easy to diagnose. If dairy consumption is accompanied by gas, cramping, nausea, and diarrhea, a doctor's visit to confirm lactose intolerance may be in order. The condition is caused by lack of lactase, a digestive enzyme which breaks down lactose. As a result, lactose intolerance ranges in severity, with some victims capable of eating minimal dairy products, which others cannot consume dairy at all.

In most cases, people with lactose intolerance can consume aged cheeses, because the aging process has broken down the lactose. In addition, some animal milks are lower in lactose than others, and experiments with goat milk, mare's milk, and sheep milk may be successful. Some people have also experimented with lactase pills taken before eating dairy. However, dairy alternatives are available, and are excellent options.

Dairy alternatives have been made by a variety of cultures for thousands of years, and not with the aim of lactose intolerance in mind until relatively recently. In Japan, for example, where dairy animals are a recent introduction, soy and rice milk have been made for centuries and used in a variety of foods. In addition to being lower in fat, dairy alternatives often have a higher nutritional value than milk, especially cow's milk, depending on what they are made out of.

The two most common dairy alternatives are soy and rice milks. Both dairy alternatives are available in fresh, frozen, or stabilized and shelf safe forms, and are usually stocked in most major stores. With the growing popularity of soy products, soy milk is probably the easiest dairy alternative to find. Both soy and rice milk are made by soaking and shredding the source grain before straining it through cheesecloth or a finely meshed sieve.

However, dairy alternatives are also made from nuts, with almond and cashew milk being relatively easy to obtain. In theory, most nuts can be used to make dairy alternatives, and also take flavor well. Many commercial nut milks are available in a wide range of flavor options, including chocolate, vanilla, and chai. Some consumers actually prefer the flavor of dairy alternatives to that of conventional milk.

Most dairy alternatives can be coaxed into cheese and butter configurations as well. Some fresh nut cheeses are comparable to their dairy counterparts, and are usable in cooking as well as for straight consumption. Numerous companies also manufacture delicious dairy free ice cream for vegans and the lactose intolerant which are well worth trying. Lactose intolerance is an excellent excuse for broadening the palate with a variety of new flavor experiences, and many dairy alternatives can also be made at home, something which cannot be said for conventional dairy.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By highlighter — On Oct 26, 2010

For those who are on a no dairy diet, but love the taste of milk, Lactaid is a good alternative that is as close to real milk as you can get. Lactaid is milk, but it has enzymes added that break down the lactose in the milk. The enzyme turns the lactose into sugar, so the body can easily digest it. It doesn’t taste much different from milk at all, and it is much better than soymilk or rice milk in my opinion.

By mistere — On Oct 23, 2007

"experiments with goat milk, mare's milk, and sheep milk may be successful."

I couldn't agree more. I realized I was lactose intolerant and I started trying other milks. I found goats milk had a minimal affect on me. I also then started to find all these amazing goats milk products.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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