Is Lactose Free the Same as Dairy Free?

One of the most prominent food trends in recent years has been the introduction of lactose-free, dairy-free, and non-dairy products into many people's diets. Whether it be for medical, environmental, or personal reasons, many people are cutting dairy out of their diets and looking for alternatives. Understanding and utilizing dairy replacements not only keep your customers safe from potentially harmful allergens but also allows you to expand your menu to cater to alternative diets. Below, we explain what the labels lactose-free, dairy-free, and non-dairy mean and how they differ from one another.

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Dairy Alternative Labels

Check out the differences between these common dairy alternative labels in our comparison below:

Lactose Free vs Dairy Free

The biggest difference between lactose-free and dairy-free is the presence of dairy in the ingredients. Lactose-free foods are made from real dairy products, while dairy-free products are made from dairy alternatives. Those that are looking to avoid dairy should steer clear of lactose-free foods.

What Is Lactose Free?

Lactose-free products still contain milk or other dairy products, just without the lactose. Lactose is a certain type of sugar that is found in dairy products and is hard to digest for some people. As a result, those who can’t digest lactose but don’t have a dairy allergy or an alternative diet like veganism will typically opt for lactose-free dairy products.

What Is Lactose Free Milk?

Lactose-free milk is milk that does not contain any lactose content. To achieve this, an enzyme known as lactase is added to the milk. Lactase is designed to break down lactose into simple sugars, making it easier to digest.

What Is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is the inability to properly digest the lactose found in dairy products. Lactose intolerance leads to indigestion and stomach problems after consumption, therefore it is recommended that individuals with the intolerance avoid any products that contain lactose. Lactose-free and dairy-free products are both fantastic substitutes that allow you to cut lactose out of your diet while still enjoying the taste and nutrients of milk.

What Is Dairy Free?

Dairy-free products are dairy alternatives that do not contain dairy from animal products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, lactose-free milk, and fortified soy milk and yogurt. These products are created from foods like nuts and seeds, containing no dairy or lactose. Due to the nature of these products, they are popular among those with dairy allergies, allowing them to enjoy a great milk substitute. Dairy-free products are key for alternative diets like veganism because it allows vegans to get the nutrients that dairy products provide without having to consume animal products.

What Is Dairy Free Milk?

Dairy-free milk does not contain any milk or milk products at all. Instead, dairy-free milk is usually plant-based or nut-based. These dairy-free kinds of milk are also fortified with vitamins and minerals just like dairy milk is, meaning you can still enjoy milk’s fantastic nutrient profile. If you’re thinking of utilizing dairy-free milk, here are some of the most popular types of dairy-free milk on the market today.

  • Coconut Milk - Coconut milk is made from shredded coconut meat that is mixed with water. There are many different types of coconut milk with varying fat levels, making it a versatile dairy substitute.
  • Almond Milk - Made from whole almonds, almond milk sports a sweet and nutty flavor and a creamy texture that is similar to cow’s milk.
  • Oat Milk - This alternative is made by mixing oats and water, but it contains several other added ingredients to mimic the flavor of dairy milk.
  • Soy Milk - Soy Milk is made from soybeans and soy isolate which provides a mild flavor profile with a creamy texture.

Dairy Free vs Non Dairy

Dairy-free products mean there are no dairy ingredients at all in the food, so it is still a vegan option. On the other hand, non-dairy products can still contain some milk products, meaning it's possible for a non-dairy product to not be vegan. Since the non-dairy labels still allow for milk derivatives, it’s common to find milk products in items like non-dairy coffee creamers and non-dairy cheeses. If you’re looking for a dairy alternative that contains no milk products at all, it's best to stick with dairy-free foods.

What Is Non Dairy?

Just because a product is labeled as non-dairy does not mean that the product contains no milk. Non-dairy labels allow for the inclusion of milk derivatives like casein and whey, both of which are found in cow’s milk. Despite its name, you should always double-check the label of non-dairy products to ensure it contains zero milk products or derivatives.

How to Avoid Dairy

Dairy products are a key part of the Western diet, so you might find it hard to avoid dairy when shopping. If you’re trying to avoid dairy entirely, it's best to stick with dairy-free foods made from things like soy milk and oat milk. Avoiding “hidden dairy” in lactose-free and non-dairy products is key to successfully cutting dairy out of your diet.

Dairy products are a great source of protein and calcium, and cutting them out of your diet can have negative effects. Although dairy-free products can provide some of the nutrients you’re missing out on, you’ll still want to alter your diet to make up for some of the lost calcium and protein. Before you make any major dietary changes, ensure you’ve done the proper research and understand the potential effects.

Understanding the difference between lactose-free, dairy-free, and non-dairy products allows you to expand your menu and cater to new customers. These dairy substitutes are often healthier and more sustainable, and they can also be consumed by those with health and dietary restrictions. For these reasons, dairy alternatives are rapidly growing in popularity, making it critical that your establishment capitalizes on the growing trend.

By Kevin Singhel
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