It’s also possible that those with lactose intolerance may be able to drink small amounts of cow’s milk. Some experts argue that adverse symptoms – such as bloating and stomach cramps – are a response to a build-up of lactose in the body, and each individual has a different threshold before experiencing symptoms.
Christopher Gardner, a nutrition scientist at Stanford Prevention Research Center in California, carried out a study comparing the symptoms of people with lactose intolerance when they drank two cups of soya milk, raw milk or regular milk every day. He found that many of them didn’t experience serious symptoms.
“We found lactose intolerance is less of a dichotomy than a continuum, and that a lot of people can tolerate modest amounts of dairy,” he says.
The rising demand for alternatives
While there’s a lot of research looking at the effects of cow’s milk on our health, there’s less research for dairy-free alternatives. A glance at any supermarket’s milk aisle suggests rising demand for these alternatives, made with soy, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, coconuts, macadamia nuts, rice, flax, oats or hemp. The main ingredient is processed and diluted with water and other ingredients, including stabilisers such as gellan gum and locust bean gum.
Soya milk is the best replacement for cow’s milk in terms of protein, as it’s the only one with comparable protein content. But the proteins in alternative drinks may not be “true” protein, says Givens.
“It may be of a substantially lower quality protein than milk, which is a critical point for children and the elderly in particular, who have an absolute requirement for high quality protein for bone development,” he says.