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A jug of non-dairy milk surrounded by almonds and other nuts

How to learn to live without dairy

If you’ve discovered that you, or a family member, have a dairy allergy or intolerance, or you want to cut out dairy products for other reasons, you can overhaul your diet. It might seem daunting but here are our top tips for living without dairy.

If you suffer from lactose intolerance (a difficulty digesting lactose, the sugar found in milk) or a milk allergy (causing your body’s immune system to overreact to milk proteins) you need to avoid dairy. To do that you’ll need to get food-label savvy. It seems obvious to avoid anything listed as plain old ‘milk’ but, remember, that also includes buttermilk, whey powder, milk that is skimmed, condensed, evaporated, powdered, described as ‘milk solids’ or as a ‘milk derivative’, and milk that is cultured or malted. Cheese, yoghurt, cream, fromage frais, ghee, custard, milk chocolate, ice cream, Quark and infant formulas are all made from – or with – milk.

Unfortunately, you’ll find most of these ingredients in many foods, which may make food shopping quite the task whilst you’re still getting to grips with what you can and cannot eat. Many types of crisps, biscuits and hard boiled sweets contain milk, as well as your essentials, such as bread varieties, cereals and spreads. But there are so many alternatives out there; it’s just knowing where to find them. Once you’ve identified dairy-free products and where you can get them, food shopping will be a breeze.

How to read labels

Lots of baked goods, processed food and ready-meals  contain milk so you’ll need to carefully check packaging on items such as cakes, pies, soups, sauces, breakfast cereals, crisps and even processed meat and pizza, too. The less obvious ingredients that mean dairy could be present in your food include casein (or caseinates), rennet, curds or whey, lactalbumin, milk sugar, lactoglobulin, lactose, galactose, hydrolysates, lactalbumin phosphate, lactate solids, lactyc yeast, lactitol monohydrate and lactulose.

For those new to dealing with allergies and intolerances, reading labels might seem like a daunting prospect but fortunately labelling regulations which were introduced near the end of 2014 and fully implemented this year have taken the pain out of this process and allowed customers to make informed choices more easily.

Under these labelling regulations, if a product contains milk or milk derived ingredients this will now be clearly indicated in the ingredients listing, typically by stating the ingredient in bold or highlighting the ingredient in a different colour. Companies will make it clear which particular method they are using for the labelling for their product with an advisory statement, such as “for allergens see ingredients in bold”.

To make it plain that an ingredient is milk derived, the ingredient will also have “milk” stated in brackets immediately afterwards. For example, in the case of the milk derived ingredient lactose, for a company where the ingredients listing lists allergens in bold, lactose would be stated as “lactose (milk)” in the ingredients listing. This same labelling system applies to any milk derived ingredient.

Go free from

Consider specialised “free-from” products – items specially designed with your allergy or intolerance in mind. Companies that create these items have done the hard work for you and worked on producing something that is as nutritious and tasty as its milky equivalent. You’ll find dairy alternatives made from soy, oats, nuts and rice as well as cake and bread mixes, cooking pastes and condiments, biscuits and snacks to stock your store cupboards with.

Get cooking

Cooking from scratch means you’ll know for sure what went into that meal, and it’s far healthier than consuming all those additives in ready-meals. It’s also worth remembering that all vegan foods are made without animal products such as milk, and that some cuisines are far more likely to be dairy-free – such as Japanese and Thai food. See our great dairy-free recipes for more ideas and inspiration.

Check your nutrients 

Bear in mind, however, that dairy products are an important source of nutrients such as vitamins B12 and B2, protein, iodine, phosphorus and calcium. If you are cutting out dairy, you should ask your GP for dietary advice and help (particularly if you’re breastfeeding) – a lack of calcium can increase your risk of osteoporosis, for example.

Good alternative sources of calcium include pulses, white bread, tofu, leafy green vegetables such as kale, nuts, cooked apricots, dried figs, sesame seeds and tahini, almonds and poppy seeds, and enriched dairy alternatives

Good sources of vitamin B12 are meat, fish, seafood, eggs, offal and enriched dairy alternatives.

Good sources of vitamin B2 are yeast extract, enriched breakfast cereals, liver and liver products (e.g. pate) and eggs.

Good sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, offal, dried beans & pulses (e.g. lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans), soya products, Quorn’s vegan products, and nuts and seeds (peanuts, almonds, hemp seeds and pumpkin seeds provide the highest levels).

Good sources of iodine are fish & seafood and sea vegetables (e.g. nori, dulse and kelp).

For those concerned that they may have difficulty incorporating enough of these foods in their diet (say, due to other dietary restrictions or personal preference) then the use of a multivitamin & mineral product is a useful insurance policy for sufficient intake.

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Related Topics

Dairy Free