If you experience abdominal pain, bloating, gas or diarrhea 30 minutes to 2 hours after drinking a glass of milk or eating a slice of cheesecake, you may be lactose intolerant. Nondairy milk alternatives can provide you the same pleasures of dairy without the digestive distress.
Those with lactose intolerance do not have sufficient amounts of the digestive enzyme lactase to break down the sugar called lactose, which is naturally occurring in milk and milk products. Frequently, people develop lactose intolerance after age 2 when the body produces less and less lactase over time; heredity may play a part in the body's inability to keep producing lactase. Lactase deficiency can also be the result of intestinal disorders such as Crohn's or Celiac due to damage to the intestinal walls (the cells in the small intestine make the lactase enzyme).
Always check with your doctor as similar symptoms may be from a milk allergy, which is a different situation altogether. Either way, it is a good idea to find some nondairy milk alternatives to milk and milk products so that you don't feel deprived of your favorite types of foods. For instance, you can still eat your cereal in the morning-just substitute a different type of milk.
Here are some nondairy milk alternatives that taste great!
1. Coconut: Available in health food stores and appearing more frequently in regular grocery stores, coconut milk is a creamy alternative to cow's milk. According to the coconut research centre, coconuts are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, fiber and healthy fats. Try this with cereal, in your coffee or by the glass. Read the label and purchase the brands without added sugar or chemicals.
2. Rice: Rice milk is a sweet tasting milk alternative also good for cereals and in smoothies. This is not as thick as regular milk so it may not be as good for coffee. Rice milk is high in vitamins B, D and A, which will contribute to your overall health and energy levels. As brown rice is generally easily digested by most people, this is a good choice if you have a sensitive digestive system.
3. Oat: Oat milk is high in fiber and protein but low in calories. This milk substitute also provides vitamins and minerals including iron. Oat milk is thicker so it may be good for coffee as well as baking, smoothies and in cereal.
4. Almond: Almond milk provides fiber, minerals and vitamins with a low glycemic load. This means that almond milk contains low carbohydrates and will help maintain steady blood sugar levels. The pleasant sweet taste of the almond milk is natural even without sugar added (again read the label and find a brand without added sugar or chemicals). Almonds provide a source of protein, so this is a good way to start the morning–whether you use it for a smoothie or pour it over cereal.
In addition to these milk substitutes, you can find cheeses made from rice and even a vegan cheese substitute made from different oils and nuts. Today, it is much easier to find alternatives to dairy milk and milk products, so ask a health care practitioner to help you plan some meals, or do your own investigating at the grocery store. You may be surprised at all the dairy free choices available.
Photo credit: Summer Tomato