‘I can’t drink milk. How can I replace the nutrition it provides?’

Margaret Moss looks at what you may be missing on a milk-free diet - and how you can replace it..

If you find you have to eliminate a food from your diet, you may worry that you are missing out on an important nutrient. What can you do?

Well, the first thing is to look at why you have to eliminate a food as that affects the answer.


Eleanor gave up breastfeeding George after two weeks. He developed colic on formula milk. She tried goats’ milk, which has different protein, and was delighted with his improvement. After a while, he deteriorated again, having become allergic to goat's milk. Eleanor did not want him to consume the plant oestrogen in soya. So she took him to the hospital, where the dietician provided him with milk that had had its protein broken down, to stop it being allergenic. He coped with this, although he disliked it, until he was able to be weaned, and take his nutrients from normal food. He continued to be well. He did need extra calcium. At first, Eleanor opened up capsules of Biocare’s Calcidophilus, and mixed the powder with his food. Later he took Solgar’s Calcium Citrate With Vitamin D tablets, as they disperse when added to a cold drink, and are cheaper.

Excess antibiotics

Keith had acne as a teenager and took tetracycline for months. It killed off the beneficial bacteria in his gut. The fungus there grew out of control, without the bacteria to compete with it. He had diarrhoea and abdominal pain. At first he gave up all milk products, but then realised that it is the sugar in milk that feeds fungus. So he tried butter and hard cheese, which are almost sugar-free, and found he could eat them. Butter contains butyric acid, an important fuel for the gut. His cheese provided the calcium he needed. He took Lamberts Acidophilus Extra, rather than yoghurt, to provide him with good bacteria. He avoided sweet fruits, sugar and milk, and gradually recovered.


Lucy had migraine. She found it reduced when she gave up dairy products. People with migraine are likely to be short of one or more of the PST enzymes, which deal with amines and phenols in foods. I suggested that it was the tyramine in her mature cheese that had caused her migraine. She found she could tolerate butter and mild hard cheese. She had given up drinking coffee when she gave up milk. This also helped reduce her migraines, as withdrawal symptoms from caffeine can trigger them. By reducing other foods high in amines or phenols, like onions, oranges, and over-ripe bananas, she eliminated the migraines altogether.

Heart problems

As John had had a heart attack, he needed to avoid sugars, especially lactose in milk, as sugars are involved in narrowing the arteries. There is a membrane around the fat globules in milk. He needed to avoid eating this membrane in cream and buttermilk, as it causes platelets to clump together, risking a clot. He had to stop his cholesterol-lowering spread, which contained buttermilk. He ate macadamia nuts instead, as they also lower cholesterol. His doctor accepted this solution. Hard cheese is not connected with coronary heart disease. So he could obtain some calcium from this. However, it was important not to have too much calcium compared with magnesium, as the two compete with each other. He therefore ate plenty of green leafy vegetables, seeds and nuts, to provide him with magnesium, which keeps down blood pressure, and makes the blood less likely to clot. His angina disappeared, and he found he could walk longer distances, and uphill again.

Autistic Spectrum

Mike was autistic. Autistic people often fail to make enough sulphate. This results in an inability to make enough digestive enzymes, as well as a leaky gut that lets food enter the bloodstream before being properly broken down. Milk and wheat, when only partly broken down, produce morphine like substances called beta casomorphine and glutamorphine. Not surprisingly, these affect the brain. Mike behaved more normally if he avoided milk and wheat. I suggested continuing to avoid milk, yoghurt and cheese, but having butter and coconut, as the butyric, lauric and myristic acids in these repair the gut wall. I also suggested bathing in Epsom salts, as these are magnesium sulphate.

Lactase deficiency

Ann had gastroenteritis as a baby. For a while it left her short of lactase, the enzyme that breaks down milk sugar, lactose, into glucose and galactose, and she had diarrhoea and abdominal pain. Luckily she could be weaned, and she tolerated grated mild hard cheese mixed into her vegetable soup.


Jenny had galactosaemia, a rare condition that means that galactose is acutely harmful. She was tiny, her hearing was damaged, and she was a slow learner. As an infant, she had to have special lactose and galactose free milk. She could then be weaned onto a dairy-free diet, but she needed calcium supplements all her life.

Ethnic origin

People whose ancestors lived near the equator are often intolerant of milk sugar from about the age of four. This is no bad thing, as, if they avoid milk, it protects their arteries from the narrowing effect of milk sugar. They can obtain their calcium from hard cheese.

Nutrients in milk

Milk is a splendid food for a small calf. It provides it with the protein, sugar, calcium, fat, and vitamins A and D that it needs. It does not provide the nutrients needed by other species, or by adult cows.

If a mother cat or lion dies giving birth, the kittens or cubs will be blind if fed on cows’ milk, because it does not provide them with taurine, a type of protein that they cannot make for themselves.

Clearly milk is not essential for human beings, as we evolved without domesticated animals, and what wild animal would allow someone to milk it?

Vitamins A & D

People who stay indoors a lot, and people who cover themselves with clothing from head to toe, are not going to have enough sunlight to turn the cholesterol under their skin into vitamin D.

They can obtain vitamins A and D from eggs, or from butter and cheese if they can eat them. People can also convert carotene in green, red, orange and yellow vegetables and fruits to vitamin A, although some people are much more efficient at doing this than others.


Protein is easily obtained from meat, fish, eggs, cheese, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.


Infants need sugars, preferably in their mothers’ milk, because sugars need little digestion. However, sugars are associated with cancer, heart disease, diabetes and damaged teeth. It is far better to eat starch in rice, potatoes or lentils after weaning, than to eat sugars.


Calcium is the main concern for those who cannot have milk or cheese. In Africa, calcium is available from finger millet. The bulrush millet sold in this country is not a good calcium source. So if you cannot eat cheese, calcium is likely to need to be supplemented. Almonds, sesame seeds, spinach and kale contain calcium, but none of these are good to eat in quantity.

Calcium supplements

Calcium carbonate is not a good supplement, as it is poorly absorbed by those without enough stomach acid. It reduces this stomach acid further, reducing absorption of other minerals, and reducing the breaking down of protein. Taking large amounts of calcium carbonate may even lead to stomach cancer.

Calcium bonded to amino acids is well absorbed, but these should be the right amino acids, not aspartate, which can over-excite the brain, and even kill brain cells. Including vitamin D in tablets also increases calcium absorption.

People are often prescribed very large doses of calcium carbonate, especially if they have osteoporosis. If you take a better absorbed form of calcium, like an amino acid chelate or citrate (both obtainable from a good health food store), you should not need to take such a high dose.

Other nutrients

Other nutrients needed by the bones, either from food or as supplements, include magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin K (in green leafy vegetables and blueberries), enough protein and omega three fats from fish or flax. Just as one footballer does not win a match, no one nutrient can ensure bone health alone.

Stoneage calcium consumption

Unless they gnawed bones, it is unlikely that our ancestors would have eaten much calcium. However their bones would have been strengthened by plenty of exercise, and they would have been out in the sun a lot, making vitamin D under the skin. And it is unlikely that many of them lived long enough to develop osteoporosis anyway.

Cow’s milk substitutes

Some people want a milk substitute, because they miss having milk on cereal, in sauces or in hot drinks. In this case I suggest the plain Rice Dream Original ‘milk’. I no longer suggest soya ‘milk’, as there is conflicting evidence about the plant oestrogen in it. I do not suggest calcium enriched milk substitutes, as the forms of calcium used are unlikely to be well absorbed.

Milk is not butter or cheese

Don’t assume that, if you cannot drink milk, you cannot eat butter or cheese either.
Milk is a complex mixture of substances, some desirable, and others most definitely not. Avoiding milk is a health benefit, not a hazard, so long as you have a modest amount of calcium from a good quality supplement.


You can find Margaret Moss www.nutritionandallergyclinic.co.uk


Click here for more articles on the management of cow's milk allergy

Back to top