Part of my job as a dietitian is to help guide people who have dietary restrictions due to food intolerances or allergies. Lactose intolerance is the most common food intolerance, caused by the inability to digest and absorb lactose (milk sugar). Milk allergy on the other hand is different, and is caused by an immune reaction to one or more of the proteins in milk.
For individuals with lactose intolerance or milk allergy, there are plenty of foods available to replace milk, yogurt and cheese in the diet. These products not only help with the enjoyment of foods (I personally would have a very difficult time living life without cheese) but also provide many important nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D that would be missed if dairy was excluded entirely from the diet. Individuals with lactose intolerance can consume milk products from which the lactose has been removed or hydrolyzed by the addition of an enzyme. Those with dairy allergy however must select from non-dairy options, such as soy, nut, or grain based products.
Recently I’ve met a number of new clients and acquaintances who are affected by either of these conditions. I thought it may be helpful to delve a bit more into the specific products that are out there and review some. Open disclosure: I purchased all of these products myself at a local store and received no contact or compensation from any of the manufacturers.
Lactose Free Dairy
In general, lactose free dairy products taste indistinguishable from their “normal” counterparts. During my experimental lactose free week, I bought the following.
- Lactaid Lowfat Cottage Cheese. Strengths: low in fat and high in protein just like regular cottage cheese, very similar nutrition facts. Drawbacks: More expensive than regular cottage cheese, and slightly thinner in consistency. Why this specific product got into my cart: Lack of competition. There are no other brands of lactose free cottage cheese available at my store. Overall: I found it to be a good replacement for Greek Yogurt to pair with berries for a high protein snack. I’d definitely buy.
- Valio Real Goodness Nonfat Milk. Strengths: No lactose and with 38% more protein and 42% less sugar than normal milk, tastes just like regular milk, and is rBST-free (froms cows not given hormones). Ultra pasteurized means a looong shelf life unopened. Weaknesses: More expensive than regular milk. Why this specific product got into my cart: More protein and less sugar sounded great, and I was curious about the taste. Overall: Great, innovative product I would buy again, whether I needed lactose free or not.
- Cabot Cheddar 75% reduced fat. Strengths: All Cabot cheddars are naturally lactose free due to the aging process, and I buy it already as a staple in my kitchen (did you notice it’s in many of my recipes?) But my real favorite reason for loving Cabot are the reduced-fat varieties including 75% and 50% reduced fat cheddar that taste amazing. I also love the markings on the side of the package so you can easily cut off 1 ounce, 2 ounces, etc. Portion control assistance is always appreciated, especially with cheese! Weaknesses: None. Why this specific product got into my cart: Best tasting, low fat block of cheese I know of. Overall: One of my favorites that I could keep enjoying on my lactose-free experiment.
My mom (dairy allergy, soy allergy AND corn allergy) accompanied me on one of my shopping sprees and helped me confirm that there are some definite winners, some middle-of-the-pack products and some downright losers in the dairy free category. I like several soy-based products, but for those who are allergic to BOTH dairy and soy, the selection process becomes much harder.
- Whole Soy & Co Soy Yogurt, Vanilla flavor. Strengths: Among nondairy yogurts, few brands have any decent amount of protein; most are high in sugar and some are high in fat. WholeSoy’s line was the best in the protein category (7 g). It tasted really good, sweet, but not too sweet, with a rich vanilla flavor. Weaknesses: cost, at almost 2 dollars apiece. Thinner than regular yogurt. Why this specific product got into my cart: I chose the brand with highest protein, and the flavor with the least sugar (18 g). Overall: I enjoyed it, but due to cost would probably not purchase it often. For a lactose free yogurt option, I’d choose the Lactaid cottage cheese over this one for more protein, less carbs and sugar. But if I had a dairy allergy, this might be the best option out there. Coconut milk yogurts were all too low in protein to be worth it to me.
- Daiya Vegan Cheese, Mozzarella Flavor. Strengths: Taste, taste, taste. Mom and I agreed, this knocked our socks off! For a product made without dairy or soy to be so cheesy and delicious…my mom described it as heaven-sent. It melted on a toasted bagel, tasted good straight from the package, and has been appearing in cheesy allergen-free omelets ever since. Visions of lasagna and pizza danced in my head when we found this one. I can’t say enough good things about it. Weaknesses: We had to go to Whole Foods Market to find it, it’s not available at regular grocery stores. It’s lower in protein than regular cheese, so I would use it primarily as a source of unsaturated fat in a meal and add protein from another food. Why this specific product got into my cart: It fit my mom’s allergy criteria. Overall: A godsend if you need dairy and soy-free products, and tasty enough for everybody else to eat too.
- Rice Vegan Cheese, American Flavor. Strengths: Suitable for vegans. Weaknesses: One bite and we couldn’t eat it. It’s that bad. It wasn’t cheap either, but we threw it out. Texture was like crumbly plastic. Why this specific product got into my cart: It fit my mom’s allergy criteria. Overall: Won’t go near it again. I’d rather live without cheese than eat this. (Note: Rice makes other varieties using a soy base which may be better, we tried the Vegan slices so I am only speaking of that product.)
- Tofutti Better than Cream Cheese & Better than Sour Cream. While these were the only sour cream and cream cheese alternatives available at my local store, I didn’t purchase these products. Both of these items have partially hydrogenated oil as the second ingredient, right behind water. This makes them poor health choices for heart health and not something I would ever buy, even experimentally. Two thumbs DOWN from AskGeorgie. Instead of cream cheese, we used Daiya mozzarella shreds on a toasted bagel and it rocked, melting into a smooth creamy, spreadable layer.
- So Delicious Coconut Milk Mini Fudge Bars. Strengths: Very yummy, sweet and creamy. The small size keeps them portion-controlled (just 70 calories each, 3.5 g fat and 10 g carbs) Plus they have 3 g fiber each. Even if you eat two it’s not a lot of damage. Weaknesses: They are really small! You can taste coconut in them, which I didn’t mind with the chocolate taste, but if you don’t like coconut you may not enjoy these. They also can be a bit pricey, as are many individual frozen novelties. Why this specific product got into my cart: It fit my mom’s allergy criteria and I wanted something frozen and chocolate on a hot summer day. Overall: Great fudgecicle + coconut flavor, free of most allergens, but not for people who like big portions.
- Tempt Coffee Biscotti Nondairy Frozen Dessert. Strengths: This premium tasting dessert would fool anyone. While it’s made from hemp milk and is free of dairy and soy, it tastes just as good as any ice cream! The crunchy biscotti bits and coffee flavor are delightful. We also tried the Chocolate Fudge Flavor and loved it too. Weaknesses: Hard to find, though it’s available at Whole Foods Markets. It’s not low in fat or calories (comparable to some regular ice creams), so one must use caution to avoid eating the whole pint! (4 servings). Why this specific product got into my cart: It fit my mom’s allergy criteria and came in delicious flavors. Overall: Absolutely delicious, anyone with a food allergy won’t have to feel left out with this stuff. Make sure to practice portion control! Pints can be dangerous, especially with a dessert this yummy.