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Plant based milks in 3 bowls, surrounded by coconuts, rice, almonds, wheat and soy beans.

Benefits of following a lactose free diet

Lactose is a sugar which is naturally found in the milk of mammals including cows, sheep and goats. It therefore follows that a ‘lactose free’ diet is one which does not include dairy products i.e. foods produced from the milk of mammals.1

Milk, cheese, yogurts and chocolate all contain lactose and so cannot be eaten on a lactose free diet.

Are lactose free and dairy free the same thing?

We often use the terms lactose free and dairy free interchangeably.

However, they are not exactly the same.

Products which are specifically lactose free may still be made from dairy, whereas dairy free foods do not contain any dairy at all.

Having said this, one of the easiest ways to go lactose free is to cut out dairy, thanks to the wide availability of dairy free products and alternatives.

Three reasons for following a lactose free diet

1.      Lactose intolerance

The main reason to follow a lactose free diet is because you are lactose intolerant or you have an allergy or intolerance to dairy products.

This means that your body struggles to digest lactose, leaving you with some uncomfortable symptoms including flatulence, bloating and stomach cramps.

There may also be lifestyle reasons why someone would want to go lactose free.

2.      Sustainability

Some people decide to cut dairy out of their diet, alongside other products derived from animals, as a move towards veganism and in order to reduce their carbon footprint.

Living a more sustainable lifestyle is something that has become more and more important to most people over the last few years, as we have realised how much damage some of the ways in which we live has caused to the planet. After all, we want to protect the natural world for future generations to enjoy.

Research suggests that eating a vegan diet could be the single biggest way to reduce the environmental impact that you have on earth, reducing your carbon footprint from food by up to 73%.2 Producing meat and dairy is said to release more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than any other type of food production. Whilst, by contrast, most plant-based dairy alternatives tend to be more environmentally friendly than dairy products.3

3.      Concerns for animal welfare

One reason why people choose to go vegan is because of their concerns for animal welfare.

And this may also be a reason why some people wish to cut down on dairy or remove it from their diets completely.

Amongst some people, there are concerns for the welfare of dairy cows across farming systems, including the quality of the environment where the cows are kept and their comfort.4

4.      Cutting down on calories

Going dairy free removes excess saturated fats, sugar and salts from your diet.

This means that you will be consuming less calories. Dairy can also disrupt your body’s acid and alkaline balance. When it is removed, digestion becomes more effective.5

If you need to cut down on calories than cutting out dairy could be a good way to do this. But this should be done as part of a balanced diet.

Is a lactose free diet low in any nutrients?

Dairy does contain a number of important nutrients, including calcium and so it is important to ensure that you are getting these nutrients elsewhere in your diet.

Sardines, fortified soy and almond milk and fortified orange juice are all rich in calcium.6

Milk is also rich in protein so be sure to replace this with lean meat or fish or, if you are going completely plant based, then you might want to up your intake of nuts, legumes and lentils.

As well as this, we get some vitamin D from milk. This could be replaced with oily fish, red meat or egg yolks7 as well as fortified soy milk, mushrooms and fortified cereals if you are following a vegan diet.8

You also may want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement, as it can be difficult to get all the vitamin D we need from our diets, especially during the winter months when we are not getting as much sunshine as during the spring and summer.

So should I reduce my dairy consumption?

Any decision to reduce your consumption of dairy products remains a personal decision and will depend on your lifestyle.

However, if you have been formally diagnosed with a lactose intolerance or a dairy allergy then you must follow a lactose or dairy free diet.

Any reduction of dairy consumption should be done in a healthy way as part of an overall,  balanced diet.

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Last Updated: 27th January 2021

Bhupesh Panchal

Author: Bhupesh Panchal

Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate

Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019

Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry

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.