Dairy-Free and Lactose Free: Do You Know the Difference?

by Peter Bua
Dairy-Free and Lactose Free: Do You Know the Difference?
It’s common for people to assume that “dairy free” is the same as “lactose free.” But that’s actually not the case. Lactose free means the lactose—which is a type of sugar in milk—has been removed from the food. But dairy free means the food contains no dairy at all, which indicates it’s probably made of nuts, plants, or grains. So something could be lactose free, but not dairy free because it still has dairy in it, just without the lactose. If you’re still a little confused about the difference between dairy free and lactose free, read on for more information that may help. Whether you’re allergic to milk or lactose, you can safely enjoy these delicious dinners: 10 Amazing Dairy-Free Recipes for the Lactose Intolerant or Dairy-Free Eater

Dairy Allergy

An allergy to dairy is more often called a milk allergy, and it simply means your immune system reacts poorly to certain proteins in milk. Whey and casein are two milk proteins that tend to be the culprits for most people. When you’re allergic to dairy, you might experience mild symptoms, like itching, swelling, and hives on your skin. If you have more serious reactions, be prepared for wheezing, breathing issues, and loss of consciousness. Clearly, you must avoid dairy if you have an allergy to it, which means you need to stick to dairy-free foods. This is why it’s so important to understand the difference between dairy free and lactose free.

Dairy-Free Foods

So what are dairy-free foods? This label refers to any foods that do not have milk proteins like casein and whey, and of course, by nature they also don’t have lactose. This means whether you’re dairy free or simply lactose free, anything labeled dairy free should be safe to eat or drink. If a product doesn’t say if it’s dairy free or not, check the ingredients. If it includes any of the following, it has dairy in it and is not safe for you:
  • Milk powder
  • Milk derivative
  • Milk solids
  • Condensed milk
  • Evaporated milk
  • Dried milk
  • Cream
  • Curds
  • Caseinate
  • Whey
  • Sodium caseinate
Also, keep in mind that “nondairy” is not the same as “dairy free.” Non-dairy products may still have milk proteins in them, so you should avoid them to keep your allergy symptoms at bay. Comprehending dairy free and lactose free can be a slippery slope sometimes! If you’re looking for a dairy-free dessert you can eat without fear of allergy symptoms, make this treat: Almond and Honey Dairy-Free Ice Cream

Lactose Intolerance

Part of understanding the difference between dairy free and lactose free as far as food goes is knowing what lactose intolerance means. Simply put, when you’re lactose intolerant, your body can’t properly digest foods and drinks that contain lactose, a type of sugar found in milk. This is because your body doesn’t make enough lactase—the enzyme that helps most people digest lactose—leaving you unable to eat or drink anything that contains this milk sugar. If you do, you’ll likely end up with symptoms that include nausea, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and cramping.

Lactose-Free Foods

If you want to avoid those bothersome symptoms, you’ll need to stick to lactose-free foods. Generally, this means you can’t drink cow’s milk or most products that have cow’s milk in them, such as butter, ice cream, most cheeses, and sour cream. However, it’s easy to find lactose-free substitutes for such foods. Simply look for products that say “lactose free” on the label. If it’s not clear, check the list of ingredients for any of the off-limits products listed above just to be on the safe side. Granted, some items are naturally free of lactose, such as almond milk, coconut milk, and soy milk. But other products—including cheese, butter, and ice cream—need to say “lactose free” on the label for them to be safe. If you want an example of a great lactose-free product to try, read: Lactose-Free Cheese? You Bet It’s a Thing Now that you know more about the differences between dairy free and lactose free, you can stick to the foods your body can tolerate. Just remember that if you’re ever in doubt about whether food has dairy or lactose in it, read the list of ingredients to know for sure. More sources on the differences between dairy free and lactose free: The Differences Between Lactose-Free and Dairy-Free Dairy Free Vs. Lactose Free Lactose-Free Vs. Dairy-Free