I am someone who is addicted to having coffees in the morning and teas in the evening from my teenage years, and I have never been able to function without them. Since I also love any dish loaded with cheese like pizzas, burgers, pasta, etc. I noticed that I always felt bloated every so often, and I would get stomach cramps as soon as I had anything milk-based. I also got many zits and pimples, but I always thought it was just my sensitive skin and had nothing to do with what I eat or drink. A couple of years back, I tried an experiment where I avoided any beverage for two weeks. Now I know what your next question would be: What about your coffee and tea addiction?
Well, let me tell you how it went. The first two days were somehow manageable, but I had severe withdrawals from the third day and kept getting migraines, which made this harder than it should have been. So I caved in and started drinking black coffee and tea and continued being dairy-free for those two weeks. Guess what? The results were terrific! I no longer felt bloated, and I didn’t get any stomach cramps for those two weeks. The best part of it all was my skin started clearing up and felt so much smoother. I was really inquisitive, so I did some more research, and I found out that I was lactose intolerant. I know what you are thinking of; Leonard from The Big Bang Theory running to the bathroom every time he ate anything with dairy. Well, it turns out there are different levels of lactose intolerance, and I was on the lower end of the totem pole.
What Is Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose is the primary type of carbohydrate found in regular cow’s milk, and to digest it, the human body produces the enzyme lactase. The lactase enzyme is needed to break lactose down into glucose and galactose, which is then absorbed into the bloodstream. When the amount of enzyme is too low, the small intestine will not be able to digest the lactose, which causes lactose intolerance. This does include not only milk but also milk-based foods such as butter, cheese, coffee creamers, paneer, etc.
What Are The Symptoms?
Now you would think that this must be a very rare affliction. Still, studies have shown that around 75% of the world’s adult population are lactose intolerant to some degree and that Asians have the highest lactose intolerance. The symptoms vary from person to person, depending on the amount of intolerance. The symptoms can range from bloating, gas, abdominal cramps, all the way to diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
Best Dairy-Free Alternatives
If you can drink black coffee and tea, then good for you, but if you are someone like me who couldn’t do that, then I, over the years, have found some amazing alternatives which would make this whole process a lot easier for us all. These dairy-free milk are expensive compared to regular cow’s milk, so make sure you check them out in your local store.
Soy Milk – Soy milk is probably one of the easy to procure and the most affordable of all the dairy-free alternatives I will list here. Suppose you are a coffee lover like me, then soy milk is the best option because it is creamy and froths up like regular milk. It is also the one that has the highest amount of protein, among other kinds of milk. Soy milk is made from soybeans or soy protein extract. It has a subtle nutty flavor to it, and you can find different flavors in the market. I usually go with vanilla or sugar-free variants for my coffees, whichever one is available to me at the moment.
Almond Milk – Almond milk, just like soy milk, is made from almond nuts. First, you keep the nuts in boiling water till it softens and then run it through a high-speed mixer till it gets to a paste-like consistency. From there, add a little more water and squeeze it through cheese or muslin cloth till all the water comes out. Sounds like a lot of work, right? Trust me; I did it a couple of times, after which I started buying the almond milk tetra packs. The main downside of making it at home is that it lasts only for a couple of days, so after all the hard work, if you open the bottle to find the milk spoilt, that will really dampen the day. Almond milk is usually good for teas, but you could also use it in your cooking in the place of fresh cream. Make sure you go with an unflavoured kind for savory dishes.
Oat Milk – Oat milk is made by blitzing oats and water. It is naturally sweet and mild in flavor and has double the carbs as cow’s milk while containing half the protein and fat. It also has a beta-glucan gel that binds to cholesterol, which in turn reduces the absorption to the body. There was even a study that showed that beta-glucan increases the feeling of fullness and reduces blood sugar levels. So if you have high cholesterol or want to reduce your sugar level, you can opt for this one instead of cow’s milk.
Cashew Milk – Cashew milk is made from grinding cashew or cashew butter with water. It has a sweet and subtle nutty flavor, and since it is rich and creamy, it is perfect for using in desserts and as a coffee creamer. The downside of cashew milk is that when it is being strained since only the water is being collected, all the nutrients like fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals are still in the pulp that is discarded. The milk also is really low on calories, so if you are looking to reduce your calorie intake, then opt for cashew milk.
Rice Milk – Rice milk is made from milled white or brown rice and water. It is watery in consistency and has a mild and naturally sweet flavor. Just like oat milk, rice milk has double the carbohydrates and half the protein and fat when compared to cow’s milk. Rice milk also has a high glycemic index, so it can be quickly absorbed by the gut, which in turn creates a spike in blood sugar level, so if you have diabetes, it is best to avoid this type of milk.
Hemp Milk – Hemp is controversial because it is extracted from cannabis plants, but depending on where you are, you may be able to get hemp milk. Unlike marijuana, hemp milk contains only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, so you are not going to get high from drinking the milk. It has a slightly sweet, nutty taste and thin, watery consistency. Hemp milk is good for those who are looking to reduce their carb intake as it contains little to no carbohydrates. Unfortunately, in India, hemp milk is still not available, so probably in the future, if it does make it to the store, then I can give it a try.
What About Dairy-Based Food?
While you could use substitutes for dairy at home for coffee, tea, and even some foods at home, at the end of the day, there is no way you could completely avoid dairy. There is very little choice when it comes to dining out, and they tend to be a little overpriced just for using dairy alternates. At those times, I would recommend taking Lactase Enzyme capsules before having the drink or meal. So instead of your gut trying to absorb the milk and failing, the capsules will allow the milk to get absorbed, which means you are not going to be dealing with the effects of milk for the rest of the day (or night). I find it particularly useful whenever I’m going out with my friends, pub hopping, or even just to have some delicious continental food that has a ton of cheese.
The Bottomline – Being a foodie while also being a lactose intolerant person can be a pain as the number of delicacies you could try reduces as you have to think about the upset stomach or bloating but with all these alternatives, you can continue relishing your favorite meals. I hope this article was useful to you; please let us know in the comments. Until next time, stay healthy!