Dairy Free Children and Adults
Dairy free diets sound horrendous to the un-initiated but there are many who have learnt to love them. In the second part of her investigation into dairy sensitivity Michelle Berriedale-Johnson looks at the unlikely places where dairy products may lurk and what can successfully be used to replace them.
Although it seems illogical, legally, in medico speak, and in commercial parlance, ‘'dairy free' means cows' milk free, not animal milk free. In the real world those who react to lactose (the sugar found in all animal milks including human) will probably react to all animal milks, but those who react to specific proteins in cows' milk may be able to tolerate goat, sheep or buffalo milk.
If dairy sensitivity strikes in infancy (Dairy free infants & toddlers) the problem is not to diagnose but to deal with it. But if it strikes in childhood or as an adult, you need first to identify dairy as the problem before you dramatically alter your diet to exclude it.
It is possible to be mildly dairy intolerant, but relatively symptom free, for a long period but for the sensitivity to suddenly become more acute because of some other health problem.
It is also possible for a sensitivity to be brought on by an outside event. This could be any kind of physical or psychological trauma (viral infection, accident, emotional crisis, depression) but is most often a digestive episode. Many sensitivities arise after a serious bout of gastroenteritis, often travellers' gastroenteritis, when the balance of the gut flora has been upset. The gut wall may also have been damaged and become ‘'leaky' or the lactase enzyme which digests the lactose sugar in the milk may have been washed out of the system by diarrhoea. The result of any of these events is that undigested or semi digested milk proteins or lactose either remain too long in the gut or get through the gut wall into the blood stream. Sometimes they can even breach the blood/brain barrier to reach the brain causing mood and behaviour problems such as depression or mood swing in adults, hyperactivity or ADHD in children.
Milk protein intolerance or allergy may also cause digestive symptoms - vomiting, wind, bloating, cramps, diarrhoea and constipation. However it may also cause breathing problems or ENT issues (rhinitis or runny nose, otitis media, glue ears, sore throat, hay fever, asthma), skin problems (urticaria, eczema) and behavioural problems (depression, mood swings, ADHD). But such is the nature of dairy sensitivity, that it can cause almost any symptom in the world.
In rare cases a milk sensitivity can be very severe and cause anaphylactic shock in which the mouth and airways swell up, breathing becomes difficult and blood pressure drops dramatically. This can be fatal - see below.
Diagnosing a food intolerance rather than a food allergy is more difficult both because reactions can occur up to 3 days after you have eaten the food, and because you may be reacting to more than one food.
This exclusion should go on for at least three months. If your sensitivity was caused by other health problems which have in the meantime been addressed (digestive damage, exhaustion, viral illness, emotional upset etc) you may well find that you are once more able to tolerate dairy products. Even so it would be wise to continue to eat them in moderation.
If however the sensitivity was more deep rooted (the digestive damage greater or general health problems more serious) you may have to continue to exclude dairy on a longer term or even a permanent basis. However, depending on the degree of your sensitivity, you may be able to relax your diet slightly.
Identifying dairy products
As with any food sensitivity you will need to become an avid reader of labels and be suspicious of every unlabelled food that you eat in a restaurant or outside your own home and control.
Below we give a table with the ingredients you need to look out for and the foods you are most likely to find them in.
Replacing dairy products
Dairy products do provide us with a great deal of very useful nutrition so it is important that, if you are going to exclude them, you replace them with alternative sources. The second and third tables below suggest reasonable substitutes for regular cows’ milk, butter, ice cream etc and foods which will replace the nutritional elements, especially calcium, which is normally derived from dairy products.
Finally, we are listing some books and websites that you may find useful in coping with a dairy sensitivity.
Dairy products: includes milk, cream, butter, cheese, yogurt - but NOT eggs.
Remember the term 'Dairy free' only means cows' milk free, not sheep, goat or other animal milk free.
Other names for dairy products:
Are likely to be found in:
Soya milk, cream, yogurt and cheese
Soya cream works like pouring cream; soya yogurts, plain and fruit flavoured, are excellent. Soya cheeses do not taste anything like regular cheese although some of the slices melt OK for pizzas or sandwiches.
Coconut milk and cream
Dairy free spreads
Replacing 'dairy' nutrients
Dairy Free Books & Websites
First published in 2004. Updated April 2013.