Whether you have a lactose intolerance or you are simply looking to cut down on your calories, there are a good number of reasons why you might be on a lactose free diet.
But there is no need to worry – there are lots of great dairy alternatives, which means that you do not have to miss out on anything if you have recently had to exclude dairy from your diet.
What is lactose?
Lactose is a type of sugar which is found naturally in the milk of most mammals, including cows, goats and sheep, from which we get most of our dairy products.1
Lactose intolerance means that your body has trouble digesting this sugar.
Lactose is made up of two smaller sugar molecules and it must be split up into these two molecules in order to be absorbed by the cells lining the small intestine.2
The enzyme that splits the molecules is called lactase and it is a deficiency of this which means that lactose cannot be split for digestion.3
If you suffer from lactose intolerance, you will experience symptoms within a few hours of eating or drinking anything that contains lactose.
These symptoms can include flatulence, diarrhoea, bloating, stomach cramps and feeling sick.4
The levels of intolerance can vary from person to person.
Some people will need to avoid lactose altogether, whereas others may be able to have a little milk in their coffee.
What foods should you avoid if you are lactose free?
Lactose is found in milk and dairy products and so these should be avoided if you are on a lactose free diet.
Milk, butter, cheese and ice cream all have a high lactose content.5
As well as this other foods such as bread, cakes, milk chocolate, salad dressings and breakfast cereals may contain a small amount of lactose. Depending on your level of intolerance, you may wish to avoid these foods too.6
Although there are some foods that you need to steer clear of when avoiding lactose, there are still plenty of things that you are able to eat.
Non-dairy milk alternatives
There are so many things that we use milk in, including tea, coffee and breakfast cereals.
And so you may find yourself searching for an alternative to milk, especially if you cannot go without your morning cuppa!
If you are looking for a dairy free milk, choose from almond milk, oat milk and soya milk amongst others.
Each vegan milk has a slightly different flavour and so the one you choose may simply be down to personal preference.
Lots of varieties of lactose free milk are lower in calories than traditional cow’s milk and may also have added nutrients.
Non-dairy cheese alternatives
If you ask anyone who is following a lactose free diet which food they miss the most, most of them would say cheese!
And that was true, up until a few years ago. But thanks to the rise in popularity of veganism, there are now more choices than ever before when it comes to lactose free cheese.
While cheese made from animal milk is off the table, there are some dairy free alternatives available and they are getting more like the real thing all the time.
Dairy free cheeses are usually made from soya, cashew nuts or coconut oil and there are plenty of different varieties of cheese available from mild cheddar to spreadable cheese and everything in between.
Some of them even melt like real cheese too!
Dairy free sweet treats
When it is time for something sweet, there are plenty of options too:
Dairy free chocolate
If chocolate is your thing then make the switch from milk chocolate to dark chocolate.
Look for varieties with 70% cocoa and above, as milk is not usually added to this dairy free chocolate.
Dairy free ice creams
Ice cream is another food where lots of dairy free alternatives have popped up over the last couple of years.
Dairy free ice creams can be made with coconut milk or another milk alternative.
Fruit sorbets are another option if it is a frozen dessert that you are after, as they are naturally lactose free. They are usually made from just water and fruit juice or fruit puree.7
Dairy free yogurt
Perfect as an after dinner sweet treat, or with some granola at breakfast time, dairy free yogurts are made from plant-based ingredients such as peas, soy, coconut, cashew nuts and almonds.
Vegan yogurts are often good for you as many of them do not contain any added sugar, as well as being rich in protein and live cultures.8
Last Updated: 1st February 2021
Author: Bhupesh Panchal, Regulatory Affairs
Bhupesh started his career as a clinical toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products. After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.
In his spare time, Bhupesh likes to cycle and has been learning to speak Korean for several years.