Many people confuse the terms “lactose-free” and “dairy-free”. They may seem interchangeable but are different.
Lactose-free products have lactose removed from them, while Dairy-free products do not contain milk-based ingredients at all.
What Is Lactose?
Lactose is a sugar that is naturally found in milk and milk-based products. It is made up of two small sugar molecules – glucose and galactose. For the body to digest lactose, it must break it down into these two smaller molecules. This is done with the help of an enzyme called lactase, produced in the small intestine.
Key Differences Between Lactose-Free and Dairy-Free
While lactose-free and dairy-free products may seem similar, there are various key differences between the two:
- Lactose-free products do not have lactose, while dairy-free products don’t have milk-based ingredients.
- Lactose-free products may still contain other components of milk, such as casein and whey, while dairy-free products do not.
- Lactose-free products may still cause discomfort for those sensitive to other milk components. In contrast, dairy-free products are safer for those with milk allergies or sensitivities.
Lactose intolerance is when the body cannot properly digest lactose. This occurs when the body does not produce enough lactase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose into smaller, more easily digestible sugars.
Milk/Dairy allergy is an immune response to proteins found in milk rather than lactose. Individuals with a dairy allergy should avoid all milk-based products, while those with lactose intolerance may consume lactose-free or low-lactose products in moderation.
When To Choose Lactose-Free Vs Dairy-Free Products?
Choosing lactose-free or dairy-free products will depend on an individual’s dietary needs and restrictions. Here are some situations in which a person may prefer one over the other:
- When an individual is lactose intolerant but not allergic to milk.
- When a person wants to reduce their lactose intake for personal health reasons.
- When an individual is allergic to milk protein or following a vegan diet.
What are Lactose-Free products?
Here are some lactose-free products:
- Lactose-free milk (e.g., Lactaid, Fairlife)
- Yogurt (e.g., Green Valley Organics, Yoplait Lactose-Free)
- Butter (e.g., Green Valley Organics, Land O’Lakes Lactose-Free)
- Creamer (e.g., Nutpods, Califia Farms)
- Lactose-free protein powder (e.g., Isopure Lactose-Free, Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Plant)
- Lactose-free cottage cheese (e.g., Green Valley Organics)
What are Dairy-Free Products?
Here are some dairy-free products:
- Almond milk
- Soy milk
- Coconut milk
- Oat milk
- Rice milk
- Cashew milk
- Dairy-free cheese alternatives (e.g., Daiya, Violife)
- Dairy-free yogurt alternatives (e.g., Silk, So Delicious, Kite Hill)
- Nutritional yeast
- Dairy-free chocolate (e.g., Enjoy Life, Endangered Species)
Benefits of Choosing Lactose-Free Or Dairy-Free Products
There are several benefits to choose lactose-free or dairy-free products, including:
- Allows individuals with lactose intolerance to still consume dairy products.
- It may reduce symptoms such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
- It can help individuals maintain a balanced diet by incorporating dairy products.
- It can help individuals with milk allergies or sensitivities avoid uncomfortable symptoms.
- It may reduce inflammation and improve digestion for some individuals.
Tips To Avoid Lactose or Dairy in Your Diet
If you’re lactose intolerant or simply looking to avoid dairy in your diet, many alternatives are available to help you maintain a well-balanced diet. Here are some tips to help you prevent lactose or dairy in your diet:
Read labels carefully: Always read the labels of your food products to ensure they do not contain lactose or dairy.
Choose plant-based alternatives: You can find many plant-based alternatives to dairy products, such as almond milk, oat milk, and coconut milk. These alternatives are often fortified with calcium and vitamin D, which are essential nutrients in dairy products.
Experiment with different recipes: You can find many recipes online that are free of lactose and dairy. Experiment with several recipes to find ones that you enjoy.
Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian: If you need help with how to maintain a well-balanced diet without dairy, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian. They can provide you with personalized recommendations based on your individual needs.
Lactose-free and dairy-free are not the same things. Lactose-free products are a suitable alternative for these individuals, allowing them to enjoy dairy products without experiencing digestive discomfort. Dairy-free products are a convenient alternative for vegan individuals who have a milk allergy or are lactose intolerant and want to avoid all dairy products.