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Lactose Free vs Dairy Free: What’s the Difference?

23 min read -

If dairy (or something in dairy) has been giving you tummy troubles, you probably want to shop for foods that aren’t going to contribute to your discomfort. In the frozen dessert aisle and in the dairy aisle, you’ll see alternatives and substitutes for dairy products. Some of them are dairy free, and some of them are lactose free. Before you grab that carton or pint, make sure you’re grabbing the one you actually need. 

What is Lactose?

Lactose is a sugar that naturally occurs in the milk produced by living things, including people. Cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and sheep’s milk all contain lactose in their raw forms. This lactose is usually allowed to remain in the milk. Lactose is found in most dairy products, but it usually naturally diminished during the process of turning milk into cheese, butter, or certain kinds of fermented dairy products

Almost everything you eat is lactose free, with the exception of dairy foods. It doesn’t occur in plants or in meat products. It doesn’t occur in plant milk or nut milk either. Milk that doesn’t come from animals technically isn’t milk and is non-dairy in nature. This means it won’t ever contain lactose.

What is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is a condition that occurs naturally in the majority of people, although it occurs in varying degrees. Well over half of adults have a diminished capacity for digesting lactose. 

Human infants are designed to drink milk from their mothers, although sometimes babies are born with lactose intolerance. Once babies are weaned, their body doesn’t see the advantage of processing and using lactose. Over time, the body stops producing lactase, an enzyme in the digestive system that breaks down lactose.

When the body makes little to no lactase, it has no idea what to do with lactose. It isn’t sure why you’re consuming any kind of milk because you’re weaned. The digestive symptoms after ingesting lactose range from mildly uncomfortable to very painful for people with lactose intolerance. 

Those with noticeable or severe symptoms are usually deemed lactose intolerance. Many people experience milder side effects like gas or bloating following dairy, and while these symptoms aren’t pleasant to live with, many people ignore them and carry on with their routines. 

Some people choose to take lactase in the form of a supplement before they eat a dairy product. They already know their body will need help digesting the lactose, so they take a lactase capsule to provide the intestine with the enzyme necessary to get the job done.

What is a Dairy Allergy?

While the symptoms of lactose intolerance are unpleasant, they aren’t necessarily life threatening. Dairy allergies can absolutely be life threatening. People with dairy allergies can enter a state called anaphylactic shock if they accidentally consume dairy. This condition can restrict the airways and become fatal rather quickly.

Dairy is one of the eight most common allergens, and it can be hard to avoid. For people living with dairy allergies, finding dairy free foods is crucial for their wellbeing. The consumption of dairy can have serious consequences, making it a bad idea to play fast and loose. Always check the ingredients of a product before you buy it, and if you’re preparing a meal for someone with a dairy allergy, speak with them beforehand. 

All Lactose Comes from Dairy, but Not All Dairy Contains Lactose

Every product that is dairy free is also lactose free. You cannot have lactose where dairy isn’t present. If a product is labelled as lactose free, the implication is that it contains dairy. If you have a dairy allergy or dietary restrictions that prohibit dairy, a lactose free product doesn’t solve the problem. It still contains dairy. It’s merely had a single form of dairy sugar removed. 

Lactose, Dairy, and Vegan Diets

All vegan diets are dairy free, which also makes them free from lactose. Lactose free diets contain dairy. They just utilize lactose free versions of dairy foods. If you’re a vegan, lactose free products aren’t suitable for you. You need the label to specifically state that a product is free from all dairy.

If you’re on a lactose free diet, you can eat as many dairy free products as you want. There’s no chance you’ll inadvertently encounter lactose in a product that doesn’t contain any milk or milk derivatives. Many people on lactose free diets find it convenient to avoid dairy entirely, as lactose free dairy is hard to find. 

Dairy Free Foods

Dairy free foods are technically easy to find. Most foods are dairy free. A glance at your grocery store’s produce section will show you a bountiful selection of dairy free products. Finding dairy free products made to substitute products traditionally made with dairy can be a bit tricky.

You’ll need to swap out your staples, like butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream. With more and more people switching to plant based diets, alternatives are much easier to find than they used to be. Vegan butter alternatives are usually made with olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil. Vegan cheese and milk alternatives are often made from nuts or soy. Yogurts can be made from nuts, coconut, soy, or oats. 

Vegan ice cream alternatives introduce a world of new possibilities. While many vegan ice creams are made with sugar and plant based milks, some are made from a completely different ingredients list. The creaminess and flavor of a frozen dessert can be nutritionally improved and perfectly duplicated with frozen fruit purees. 

Sorbet is also dairy free in all its forms, but not all sorbet is also vegan. Some sorbets are sweetened with honey, which isn’t a vegan ingredient. If you’re only dairy free, the presence of honey won’t impact you. If you’re vegan, you may want to double check the ingredients before you buy a pint. 

The Takeaway

Dairy free diets and lactose free diets are very different things, and these diets are used for very different purposes. Lactose free diets are used to accommodate a food intolerance. Dairy free diets are used to accommodate an allergy or to adhere to a vegan lifestyle. Both lactose free people and dairy free people can enjoy dairy free foods. Dairy free people cannot consume lactose free foods, because they still contain dairy. 

Snow Monkey is the perfect food for lactose free, dairy free, or vegan eaters. You can enjoy a decadent pint of chocolate mint chip without encountering any lactose or dairy. You also won’t encounter any refined sugar, artificial colors or flavors, or artificial sweeteners. 

Snow Monkey does something that most dairy free desserts don’t. Rather than attempting to duplicate dairy ice cream with all of its nutritional flaws, we set out to create an ice cream that’s healthy enough to eat for every meal. With 20+ grams of vegan protein per pint, a wealth of antioxidants, and the nutritional benefits of fruit, Snow Monkey is as healthy as a smoothie.

Snow Monkey is more than just dairy free. It’s free from all eight major allergens. You’ll never find peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, or wheat in our desserts. It’s built for everyone to enjoy. 


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