Milk Allergy versus Lactose Intolerance

Written by Larissa Stanley, a volunteer at Calgary Family Nutrition. For more information, you can see her bio here

Dairy products include milk and all products containing milk. Dairy products are readily found in Canadian diets. You may not realize how common they are until you find out your child has a milk allergy. This may make navigating the world of eating dairy-free seem overwhelming. Over the coming posts, we will look at where dairy is commonly found in our diets, the important nutrients, and vitamins in dairy products, and how to cook and bake without dairy.

Let’s start with the difference between a milk allergy and lactose intolerance.  

It is important to know that a milk allergy is different than lactose intolerance.

Lactose is a type of sugar that is naturally found in milk. Typically, our bodies use an enzyme called lactase to break down the lactose and digest it properly. In lactose intolerance, a person lacks the amount of lactase they need to break down the lactose they eat, leaving people with some unpleasant GI symptoms. However, this isn’t an allergy and those with lactose intolerance can often eat dairy products that are low in lactose such as certain cheeses and yogurts. Lactose intolerance is actually quite rare in young children since they are born with lactase in their intestines to breakdown breastmilk.

On the other hand, a milk allergy is when the body treats the protein in milk as an allergen. In this case, an allergic reaction happens every time your child with a milk allergy eats a dairy product. The seriousness of the reaction depends on the child and should be discussed with your healthcare provider.  Milk allergies mostly affect children under 5 years old as most children outgrow the allergy by this age.

Unlike lactose intolerance, dairy products should be completely avoided to prevent these reactions. This can be tricky as they can be hidden in all sorts of food.

Start by checking food labels for ingredients!

An important way to make sure that the foods you’re feeding your child are dairy-free is reading the ingredients on the food that you buy. Make sure to always have a look at the labels, even if you have used them before, as sometimes the ingredients can change.

Here is a list of foods and ingredients that you will need to avoid if your child has been diagnosed with a milk allergy:

    • Cheese, cottage cheese, cheese curds
    • Yogurt
    • Cow milk-based infant formula
    • Butter
    • Buttermilk
    • Butterfat, ghee
    • Cream
    • Sour cream
    • Ice cream
    • Fermented milk like kefir and kumiss
    • Dry milk, milk solids
    • Milk derivative, milk fat derivative, milk protein derivative
    • Modified milk ingredients
    • Hydrolyzed milk protein
    • Ammonium caseinate, calcium caseinate, magnesium caseinate, potassium caseinate, sodium caseinate
    • Casein, caseinate, rennet casein
    • Hydrolyzed casein
    • Whey, whey protein concentrate
    • Delactosed whey, demineralized whey
    • Lactalbumin, lactalbumin phosphate
    • Lactose
    • Lactoferrin
    • Lactoglobulin, beta-lactoglobulin                                                                                                                                                                                                                           List from Dietitians of Canada (2009)

In the next few posts, we will review cow’s milk alternatives and how to make nutrient-packed meals and snacks without using dairy.

If you feel overwhelmed trying to navigate the world of cooking and eating dairy-free, consider booking an Allergy Consultation with one of the Registered Dietitians at Calgary Family Nutrition here

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