Many folks who go gluten free have done so because they have experimented with their diets and found that they simply feel better without gluten. Others have received a firm diagnosis that they must remove gluten from their diets for serious health reasons like celiac disease. For some, the health benefits are marked and immediate once they stop eating gluten; for others though, it takes time to feel truly better once they have stopped eating gluten. And sometimes, removing gluten is not enough.
For me and a majority of others with celiac disease (“CD”), eliminating dairy from our diets is required, as our bodies no longer produce lactase, the enzyme necessary to break down the milk sugar called lactose. When we eat dairy containing lactose, gastrointestinal discomfort to some degree is a sure result. Many of us with celiac disease developed secondary lactose intolerance/lactase deficiency from injury to our small intestines because of years of undiagnosed CD.
Lactose intolerance (primary or secondary) is quite common in the general population as well, though — in fact, most adults are lactase deficient. An estimated 30-50 million American adults are lactose intolerant, and certain ethnic groups suffer in far higher numbers, including Asians and American Indians who manifest lactose intolerance in 80-100 percent of their populations!
Lactose is naturally present in all milk by-products (from all mammals like goats, sheep, cows and humans), including butter, cream, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt and ice cream; many other foods and medications contain lactose though, so diligence in reading labels is essential for those avoiding lactose.
Hard cheeses and yogurts actually contain less lactose, and lactose-free (lactase added) milks are more and more common. Many new lactose-free cheese products have been introduced as well, opening up more options for those avoiding lactose.
The sugar (lactose) in milk products is not the problem for everyone though. Some people experience discomfort or a true allergy to the proteins in milk — primarily, casein and whey. (This is a similar condition to those with allergies to soy, as they are nearly always just allergic to the protein in soy, not other by-products like soy lecithin).
Casein is the curd that forms when milk sours, and whey is the watery portion that is left. Some people are allergic to either whey or casein, but others may be allergic to both; often it is difficult to determine exactly which protein is causing the reaction, and it can be difficult to find food products that separate those proteins as well.
Thus, for those with milk protein allergy or otherwise avoiding one milk protein or another, avoiding milk products altogether is the only safe solution. Note: if you are still experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms, even after removing gluten and dairy from your diet, you may want to experiment with eliminating other cross-reactive foods (there are 18 cross-reactive, non-gluten foods that may exacerbate the immune response for gluten sensitive patients). There is a good summary of these foods and the theory of cross-reactivity from Alisa at Go Dairy Free.
For those avoiding dairy altogether for whatever reason, there are fortunately more and more food solutions. I detail these dairy-free substitutions in my book, Free for All Cooking: 150 Easy Gluten-Free, Allergy-Friendly Foods the Whole Family Can Enjoy.
Everything from buttermilk to cream to evaporated milk and ice cream — and every dairy product in between — can be successfully substituted for in your baking. Consult with your doctor to be sure your nutritional needs are being met, and embrace the wonderful dairy-free products and recipes that are available to all of us now!
*For updated new product information from 2013′s Natural Products Expo West, listen to the free podcast of The Gluten Free Voice Radio Show.
Here are just some of my favorite ready-made dairy-free and gluten-free products & ingredients:
DaiyaTM Cheddar and Mozzarella-Style shredded & sliced dairy-free cheese
Lisanatti Foods® Almond Mozarella-Style Shredded Cheese
Earth Balance® Vegan Buttery Sticks
Earth Balance® Coconut Spread (vegan & soy-free)
So Delicious® Coconut Milk Beverage
So Delicious® Almond Milk + Protein (new!)
Earth Balance® Organic Soy Milk
Silk Live!® Soy Yogurt
Whole Soy & Co.® Soy Yogurt
So Delicious® Coconut Yogurt
Green Valley Organics® Lactose Free Yogurt
Follow Your Heart® Cream Cheese Alternative (soy)
Tofutti® Better Than Cream Cheese (soy)
Follow Your Heart® Sour Cream Alternative (soy)
Tofutti® Better Than Sour Cream (soy; non-hydrogenated)
Green Valley Organics® Lactose Free Sour Cream
Purely Decadent® Coconut Milk Ice Cream
So Delicious® Almond Milk Ice Creams (new!)
TemptTM Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert (hemp milk ice cream)
DariFreeTM Milk Powder
So Delicious® Coconut Creamer
Mimic CremeTM Creamer, Cream and “Healthy Top” whipped topping (nut-based)
SoyaToo! Whipped Cream (soy)
SvelteTM Protein Drink (soy)