Milk and dairy products, such as cheese and yoghurt, are great sources of protein and calcium. They can form part of a healthy, balanced diet.
However, there are several reasons people might look for substitutes for dairy products. The most common of these are:
The vegan diet excludes all food and products that come from animals including cows’ milk.
Some 75% of the world’s population doesn’t produce enough lactase, the enzyme needed to digest the milk sugar lactose This causes symptoms including bloating, gas and diarrhoea. If diagnosed, cutting out dairy products that include lactose can greatly help with relieving these symptoms.
Some 2–3% of children under three have a milk allergy. This can cause a range of symptoms from eczema and stomach cramps, although most children outgrow it by their teenage years.
Some people choose to remove dairy products from their diets due to concerns over potential contaminants such as hormones, pesticides and antibiotics.
As milk and dairy foods are good sources of important nutrients, these should not be cut out of a child’s diet without first speaking to a professional to ensure adequate replacements are found for these nutrients.
Increasingly, there are lots of substitutes for all the major dairy foods. There are a number of lactose-free dairy products available to buy that are suitable for people with lactose intolerance. These contain the same vitamins and minerals as standard dairy products, but they also have an added enzyme called lactase, which helps digest any lactose so the products don’t trigger any symptoms.
There are a number of alternative foods and drinks available in supermarkets to replace milk and dairy products, such as soya and almond milks, yoghurts and some cheeses. Soya milk is nutritionally equivalent to cows’ milk.
Adults need 700-1000mg of calcium in their diets per day and pregnant, post-menopausal women and older adults may need more. In general, we are led to believe that we do not obtain sufficient calcium, if we do not consume milk and dairy produce.
However, calcium is readily available in foods such as canned fish (those that include the edible bones), green leafy vegetables such as watercress, kale and broccoli, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, pulses and whole grains and is increasingly fortified in a variety of foods.
Eggs, fish and seafood, soya, nut and seeds and pulses are all great sources of protein to replace diary products. All are low in saturated fats and high in unsaturated fats too.
There is merit in looking at alternative products to replace milk and diary. As we age the body changes and what we used to be able to tolerate, we find we have sensitivities to.
When I was growing up, in school we’d have a daily supply of milk stored in crates by the radiator in each classroom, but today that doesn’t happen. There are also many foods available now that contain the same amount of calcium that are found in milk and dairy products.
Consuming too much milk is known to deplete calcium in the bones, due to the high protein content, so we’re now being told to consume less.