When you get diagnosed (or work out for yourself) that you have difficulty digesting milk and other dairy foods because you are lactose intolerant, you suddenly get confronted with the decision of what to use as a milk replacement. There are so many different kinds of non-dairy milk available now and the choice can be overwhelming.
Should you look for an alternative form of animal milk or one of the nut milks or perhaps a grain milk? Or should you simply just use ‘lactose-free’ cows milk? And what exactly is A2 milk?
Lactose intolerance is not the same as a milk allergy.
People who are lactose intolerant lack the enzyme needed to break down the sugar in milk, lactose, so it can be absorbed. Normally your body breaks down the lactose with an enzyme called lactase. When this is lacking or deficient your body cannot break down the lactose, which then passes through your gut in a completely undigested state. When it meets the bacteria in the lower intestinal tract gas is produced and you experience all the painful symptoms.
LACTOSE FREE MILK
For many people who are lactose intolerant, and not allergic to dairy foods, the simplest option is to switch to lactose-free cows milk, in which the lactose, or milk sugar, has been changed to a state that their gut is able to process.
In lactose free milk the enzyme your body lacks, lactase, is added to the milk to break down the lactose for you, into smaller molecules that you are able to absorb. You don’t experience the symptoms associated with digesting normal milk.
One difference to normal milk is that lactose-free milk tastes much sweeter because the sugar is already broken down.
Soy milk is made from soy beans and water. It is low in saturated fat but rich in a range of essential nutrients including protein and potassium. It is also high in antioxidants which are a great benefit to your health.
Because so many soy crops are genetically modified it is vital that you only drink ones labeled as GMO free.
Select ONLY those brands that are made from whole soybeans, and they will be labeled as such, even if just in the ingredient list.
This point is really important with Soy Milk. If the milk is made from soy isolates, as more than half the soy milk in Australia is, AVOID IT. Also, check your soy milk is unsweetened as many brands add sugar.
Soy milk has quite a creamy consistency. There is a great difference in the quality and taste of various soy milks so you may need to test a few to find one you like.
There is evidence that soy can improve your blood profile and help prevent strokes and heart disease. The phytoestrogens in soy can help balance the hormone levels in postmenopausal women and reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men.
Almond milk is made from ground almonds and water. Some brands on the market contain very little almonds, but the one I use has 10% content and it is just a case of seeking out a quality brand.
Although almonds are a good source of protein, the milk is low in protein. But it provides all the antioxidant benefit provided by almonds. It is cholesterol free and has been used to lower blood-sugar levels. Some brands are fortified with calcium and vitamin D and B12. Many brands are sweetened.
Almond milk has a nutty flavour and light, creamy texture. It can be used in everything, from cooking to smoothies or drinking. Almond milk however is not suitable for anyone with a fructose intolerance or nut allergy.
Almond milk is quite easy to make for yourself. It contains far more almonds than packaged varieties and can be made using organic almonds and pure water. Plus you know it won’t be loaded up with agave or other sweeteners.
HOW TO MAKE ALMOND MILK
- Simply soak 1 cup of almonds I water for at least 6 hours or overnight to remove phytates and enzyme inhibitors.
- Remove, and for a less gritty flavour and lighter colour milk remove the skins.
- Rinse and drain, then blend the almonds with 4 cups of filtered water. For a thicker milk you can reduce the quantity of water.
- Strain through cheesecloth or a nut milk bag, which you can buy or make simply yourself.
- You can blend in cinnamon, honey or other flavourings.
- It keeps in the fridge for up to a week.
You could also try this recipe with macadamia or hazelnuts. Milk made from any nut is always simple to make for yourself. If you drink milk rarely or only use it for cooking just make small quanitities as you need it. This great recipe for CHIA MACADEMIA NUT MILK contains lots of extra wholesome ingredients and is a great example of how creative you can be with your home-made milks.
Coconut milk is a great alternative to cows milk for thickening or creating a creaminess in soups, stews, curries or for baking. It can even be whipped up and makes a great replacement in desserts for normal cream.
Coconut milk contains a special sort of fat called medium chain triglycerides, that are metabolized differently to other fats in your body. They boost metabolism and give a burst of energy, rather than get stored in the body as fat.
Coconut milk is made from the coconut flesh and is rich and thick. Don’t confuse it with coconut water which is the liquid from the centre of the nut.
Unlike most liquids coconut milk contains lots of fibre because it is made by grating the flesh. One cup contains over 5 grams of fibre, one sixth of your daily requirement.
If you want to make coconut milk yourself just add young coconut meat to the blender, cover with filtered water and blend. Add more water until you reach the consistency you desire.
Any leftover coconut milk from cans can be frozen in ice-cube trays.
If you choose to eat wholefoods in your diet you may prefer nut milk to other lactose-free options because they undergo less processing.
One of the grain milks, rice milk typically contains about 14% rice. It is very low in fat but is much lower in protein than soy milk. In fact it falls low all round on the nutrition scale, although there are calcium enriched versions available.
Rice milk is thinner and milder in flavour than either soy or almond milk and is suitable for anyone with soy or nut allergies or gluten intolerance as well as lactose intolerance.
Oat milk is another grain milk. It is not as rich as the nut milks and has a mild, slightly sweet taste.
It is very low in fat but high in vitamins and minerals. In fact it contains more calcium than cow’s milk, one cup containing over a third of the RDA. It also contains lots of Vitamin A. It is very low in fat, about a third of that in cow’s milk, and is cholesterol free. It is a good option for vegans as it contains 10 percent of the RDA of iron.
Oat milk can provide a great tonic for the nervous system, calming it down.
It is not suitable if you have a gluten intolerance.
It is the protein component in A2 milk that makes it different to most cow’s milk available. In this respect it resembles the milk from other animals like goat, sheep, or buffalo.
While A2 may be better for those with an allergy to milk it does not help someone with a lactose intolerance, as the milk sugar is not changed. If A2 milk does improve symptoms then perhaps those symptoms were due to a milk allergy rather than lactose intolerance.
More and more options are making their way into the market. I noticed there is now an ‘Ancient Grains Quinoa With Chia Milk’ available, bringing the health benefits of both these awesome Superfoods into a new lactose-free milk suitable for those with nut allergies.
LACTOSE IN FOODS
Milk is not the only food you need to avoid when you are lactose intolerant. Any food containing lactose also needs to be avoided. This includes cream, cheese, butter, ice-cream, crème frais, condensed milk, custard, plus the huge number of processed foods that have any form of milk in them. Packaged foods containing milk solids, skimmed milk, milk proteins, biscuits, cakes, bread, luncheon meat, soups, sauces, plus many more all should be avoided.
Goats and sheeps milk and cheese do contain lactose but in far lesser quantities than cows milk. You may find you can eat small quantities of goat cheese occasionally, and tolerate some butter. But many may find even this brings on their symptoms.
Quality yogurt is often tolerated with lactose intolerance because the live bacteria in the yogurt partially break down the lactose, making it easier to digest.
As more and more nuts, grains and seeds are used to make milk the choices will just become wider and more difficult. Why not try out a few different milks and find which you prefer. And remember to mix up the different types of milk you choose, sometimes soy, nut, oat or rice, for greater variety in your diet. I use soy milk for cooking some things and various nut milks for making others as some milks suit one type of food preparation better than others. For drinking it comes down to your own preference.
All information and opinions presented here are for information purposes only and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice offered during a consultation. Please consult with your health care provider before following any of the treatment suggested on this site, particularly if you have an ongoing health issue.