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Dairy alternatives: Exploring lactose-free diets and their potential

Posted: Sep 12, 2023 7 minute read SMART 880 views

Dairy products play a key role in many people’s diets. Over 6 billion people across the globe consume milk and milk products, with milk consumption totaling around 190 million tonnes in 2020.

While dairy products still retain significant market share, dairy alternatives have gained traction in recent years. In 2022, the market for non-dairy alternatives, like plant-based milk, was worth USD27.3 billion. Experts predict it will keep growing at a rate about 10.4 percent each year until 2027. Based on a McKinsey 2022 study, 45 percent of people who consume plant-based dairy alternatives plan to increase consumption in the next three years.

This growth is driven by a number of key factors, including an increasing awareness and adoption of healthier dietary choices, as well as concerns over lactose intolerance, allergies, and overall wellness. Additionally, environmental concerns also play a crucial role in driving this expansion, as consumers become more environmentally conscious and are gravitating towards plant-based options that have a lower carbon footprint.

For food businesses, like home bakeries, catering to lactose-free diets can open up new opportunities and cater to a broader customer base. One promising option is milk fat replacers from vegetable fat or blends, like palm oil.

In this article, we delve deeper into lactose-free diets and examine the potential of milk fat replacers as a viable alternative for both lactose-intolerant consumers and food and beverage manufacturers.

What is lactose? Why can’t some people consume lactose?

Lactose is a sugar that is naturally found in milk and dairy products, like cheese, yogurt, or ice cream. Some people can’t consume lactose due to a condition known as lactose intolerance.

Lactose intolerance is a digestive disorder characterised by the body’s inability to fully digest lactose. This condition arises due to a deficiency of or insufficient production of the enzyme lactase, which is necessary for breaking down lactose into its simpler components – glucose and galactose.

As a result, undigested lactose reaches the large intestine, causing various digestive symptoms, such as bloating, diarrhea, and gas.

Signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance may include:

Did you know?

Lactose intolerance is different from milk allergies.

A milk allergy occurs due to an immune response to the proteins in dairy products. Meanwhile, lactose intolerance is due to the inability to digest the sugar lactose.

Lactose intolerance can typically be distinguished from milk allergy by less severe symptoms and a person’s history of problems with dairy. Consultation with a doctor is advised to assess the symptoms and suggest suitable treatment.

signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance

Did you know?

Lactose intolerance is different from milk allergies.

A milk allergy occurs due to an immune response to the proteins in dairy products. Meanwhile, lactose intolerance is due to the inability to digest the sugar lactose.

Lactose intolerance can typically be distinguished from milk allergy by less severe symptoms and a person’s history of problems with dairy. Consultation with a doctor is advised to assess the symptoms and suggest suitable treatment.

This is a condition that affects a significant portion of the world’s population – about 68 percent. While it can occur at any age, certain groups of people are more prone to lactose intolerance due to genetic, ethnic, and age-related factors:

factors affecting lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance exists on a spectrum, and individuals experience varying degrees of tolerance. For some individuals, consuming minimal amounts of lactose might not lead to discomfort, while other might find it necessary to adhere to a stricter lactose-free diet.

Is lactose-free same as dairy-free?

While the term “lactose-free” is commonly equated as “dairy-free”, the two terms are very different. Lactose-free foods are dairy products where the lactose has been removed, whereas dairy-free contain no dairy milk or dairy milk-derived ingredients.

Learn more about the differences of lactose-free and dairy-free milk products in this table:

Lactose-free milk products Dairy-free milk products
Definition Dairy products without lactose (but still contain other dairy components, such as casein and whey) Products that contain no dairy milk (including casein and whey)
Sources Cow/bovine milk, goat milk Cereals, nuts, legumes, seeds
Consumers People with lactose intolerance. Not suitable for vegan or dairy-free diets. People with dairy allergy, lactose intolerance, or who choose to avoid dairy
Processing Milk or dairy products are processed to filter/remove the lactose or are neutralised by the enzyme lactase For plant-based milk alternatives, plants or nuts are soaked/grinded and filtered to extract the milk; Product may be fortified with vitamins and minerals
Examples of products Lactose-free milk, lactose-free cheese Plant-based milk alternatives (coconut milk, soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, etc.), dairy-free yogurt, vegan cheese
Lactose-free milk products Dairy-free milk products
Definition Dairy products without lactose (but still contain other dairy components, such as casein and whey) Products that contain no dairy milk (including casein and whey)
Sources Cow/bovine milk, goat milk Cereals, nuts, legumes, seeds
Consumers People with lactose intolerance. Not suitable for vegan or dairy-free diets. People with dairy allergy, lactose intolerance, or who choose to avoid dairy
Processing Milk or dairy products are processed to filter/remove the lactose or are neutralised by the enzyme lactase For plant-based milk alternatives, plants or nuts are soaked/grinded and filtered to extract the milk; Product may be fortified with vitamins and minerals
Examples of products Lactose-free milk, lactose-free cheese Plant-based milk alternatives (coconut milk, soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, etc.), dairy-free yogurt, vegan cheese

Comparison between lactose-free and dairy-free products1

How to opt for a lactose-free diet

Transitioning to a lactose-free diet involves making thoughtful dietary choices to ensure both nutritional needs and digestive comfort are met. Here’s a few ways you can opt for a lactose-free diet:

  1. Explore plant-based milk alternatives: Start by exploring the wide array of plant-based milk alternatives, such as almond, soy, oat, coconut, and rice milk, which serve as excellent replacements for traditional cow milk.
  2. Incorporate lactose-free dairy products: Seek out lactose-free versions of dairy products like milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream, all specifically formulated to provide the same taste and texture without the discomfort.
  3. Opt for lactase supplements: Lactase supplements can aid in occasional lactose consumption. Do consult with a registered dietitian before consuming the supplements.
  4. Try non-dairy options: Incorporate non-dairy options, like milk fat replacers or dairy-free margarine to add variety to your meals.

What are milk fat replacers? How are they an option for lactose-free diets?

Milk fat replacers are specially-formulated vegetable fats that can replace or mimic the texture, mouthfeel, and functionality of milk fat in various dairy applications. They enable individuals with lactose intolerance to enjoy products with textures and sensory qualities akin to dairy, even with little to no dairy milk used.

These replacers commonly use plant-based fats such as palm, coconut, soy, and other oils. Some common applications of milk fat replacers include ice cream, cheese, creamer, yogurt, butter and margarine, dressing, beverages, and confectionary products.

Driven by the growing plant-based diet trend, numerous food manufacturers have risen to the challenge by developing new alternatives across the board. Their goal is to strike a balance between meeting consumer demand and creating products that meet consumer expectations for taste, texture, and nutritional value to milk fat. This is where milk fat replacers can provide substantial benefit.

Read on through this infographic to learn more about the pros and cons of milk fat replacers before considering adding them to your lactose-free diet or to your food production line.

Interested in milk fat replacers?

Made from palm oil, our Filma MFR 36 is allergen-free (for those lactose intolerant), trans-fat free and cholesterol-free.

With a great mouthfeel, it’s particularly good for making ice cream, cheese analogue, toffee, and non-dairy whipped cream.

the advantages of milk fat replacers

the drawbacks of milk fat replacers

How do we identify milk fat replacers on food packaging or labels?

Guidelines for food labelling, including those related to milk fat replacers, should be consistent internationally. This practice not only ensures food safety but also safeguards against deceptive or inaccurate labelling of food. However, it’s worth noting that these regulations can differ across nations and regions.

Typically, you can identify milk fat replacers from the product’s ingredient list on the label. Milk fat replacers will typically be listed as “vegetable oils”, “modified palm oil”, “hydrogenated fat”, or “interesterification fat”.

If the product contains milk fat replacers that are derived from allergenic sources like soy, nuts, or wheats, there will usually be an allergen statement on the packaging. This alerts consumers to the presence of potential allergens in the product.

Sometimes, food manufacturers may use descriptive claims on the packaging to indicate the use of milk fat replacers. Phrases like “non-dairy”, “plant-based”, “cream substitute” or claims that highlight the product’s attributes, such as “made with vegetable oils” or “suitable for lactose-intolerant individuals” can suggest the presence of milk fat replacement.

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Our high-quality milk fat replacer meets the diverse needs of dairy production, serving major food producers as well as smaller cafes and coffee shops. Check out our Products & Services page to learn more.

Looking to customise a product for your food manufacturing line? Learn about our R&D capabilities here.

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1 Information retrieved from:
https://www.thespruceeats.com/difference-between-lactose-and-dairy-free-1000937
https://www.webstaurantstore.com/blog/4176/lactose-free-vs-dairy-free.html

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