I advocate giving up dairy for several reasons. I was a vegetarian for many years before I realized that dairy, as well as grains and legumes, was a big contributor to my leaky gut and resulting health issues, including my Graves’ disease. However, I understand that giving up dairy is very hard for many people. The good news is that there are some new, all-natural dairy substitutes that may be just right for you.

Once your leaky gut is healed and you’ve completed an elimination diet, you may even be able to expand your diet to occasionally include goat or sheep’s milk cheeses, especially with the help of digestive enzymes. Complete Enzymes is a broad-spectrum blend of enzymes that help break down everything from protein and protein peptides, to carbohydrates, disaccharides, sugars, lipids/fats, and even vegetable fibers. Complete Enzymes also supports your body’s natural inflammatory response, immune system, and digestive health.

Why Avoid Dairy and Opt for Dairy Substitutes?

We are led to believe that dairy is a cornerstone of a healthy diet, yet the truth is that many people are sensitive to dairy products resulting in digestive issues including bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. The answer: Dairy substitutes! 

Dairy Sensitivity is Common

It is thought that 75% of all people could suffer from a dairy sensitivity. For some, it causes symptoms such as acne or even autistic behaviors. This is because dairy causes inflammation for a large percentage of the population. In fact, I believe that dairy is among the top two inflammatory foods in our modern diet, second only to gluten.

The Signs of Dairy Intolerance

The substances that can trigger an inflammatory response in your body are lactose, casein, and whey protein. People who are lactose intolerant don’t produce the enzyme lactase, which is needed to break down lactose so it can be absorbed normally in their body. Instead, undigested lactose passes into your colon, where bacteria breaks it down and produces fluid and gas. This combination can cause the above symptoms, as well as stomach pain, headaches, fatigue, loss of concentration, muscle, and joint pain, eczema, mouth ulcers, and problems urinating. 

Those who do produce lactase may still react poorly to dairy products due to the two proteins found in milk: casein, and whey protein. Casein is a protein that is very similar to gluten in its molecular structure, and 50% of those who are gluten intolerant are also intolerant to casein. Whey protein can cause side effects in people who are allergic to whey protein and cow’s milk, which may include hives, rashes, facial swelling, throat and tongue swelling, and a runny or stuffy nose.   

Dairy Substitutes Aren’t New

You may remember just a few dairy substitutes such as soy milk and rice milk being available in whole food stores during the past two decades. Though many dairy alternatives were soy-based and thought to be healthy, lots of chemicals and processing were used in the same way that other processed foods were made. Soy is a legume and can be very inflammatory, and it causes its own layer of digestive problems, such as producing gas. A large percentage of this dairy alternative also contains genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). Additionally, it has odd textures and not the most pleasant flavor either, making it a poor dairy substitute.

Plant-Based Dairy Alternatives

Generally, you won’t hear me talk about new foods. I’m a proponent of organically grown minimally processed foods, especially when they are so useful, such as dairy alternatives. Yet there are some interesting new dairy-free, plant-based substitutes available that are relatively pure. However, you STILL need to read labels to avoid dairy-free cheeses made from soy, pea protein, and safflower oil. These dairy substitutes certainly do not contain those ingredients!

If you had problems with dairy in the past, as long as you have completed an elimination diet and begun to reintroduce foods, it should be safe to try the following dairy alternatives one by one. The options below (except coconut) are nuts. If you don’t tolerate nuts well, they won’t work for you so just skip ahead! 

Almond

Almond milk can make a great dairy substitute because it has one of the most similar flavors to dairy milk. Its texture is also similar yet it contains fewer calories. You can choose from yogurt, Greek yogurt, cream cheese, and cheese substitutes made from almond milk.

Cashew

This is one of my favorite dairy substitutes. Compared to almond milk, cashew milk is slightly creamier. It shares many positive properties with almond milk. There is a wide range of options available for this dairy alternative, including yogurt, drinkable yogurt, sour cream, soft, brie-like cheeses and hard, slicing cheese, as well as queso (a cheesy dip) made from cashew milk. Cashew ice-cream made from cashew milk is also a firm favorite because it really does taste like regular ice cream with the same mouth-feel due to its high fat content.

Macadamia

Macadamia nuts make a deliciously creamy dairy-free brie. These tree nuts have a subtle, butter-like flavor and a creamy texture due to its high healthy fat content, making them a great dairy alternative.

Coconut

Coconut milk, cheese and yogurt are wonderful dairy alternatives that everyone can enjoy. Not only can it help with weight management and lower cholesterol, coconut milk is absolutely delicious. Coconut milk goes well in soups, smoothies, oatmeal, chicken curry and cereal. Coconut cheese is worth looking out for, yet live probiotic coconut yogurts can be found almost anywhere, including many conventional supermarkets. 

Animal-Based Dairy Substitutes

Technically, goat and sheep’s milk are dairy products, not dairy substitutes. However, some people find they can tolerate goat or sheep’s milk cheeses even though cow’s milk is a problem. I would recommend going easy on these! Also, remember to go slow.Try a little bit and see how you feel and listen to your body.

Here are some facts to bear in mind before you try them:

Humans have a longer history with sheep and goat milk than with cow milk, which may be one reason why many people find them easier to digest. The first animals to be domesticated around 13,000 years ago were goats and sheep, followed by cows around 4000 years ago.

They do contain casein and whey, however, it is a different form than cow milk. Casein has two variants, A1 beta-casein and A2 beta-casein. A1 is the beta-casein that people often have reactions to and is the newest version because it only appeared a few thousand years ago after a mutation occurred in European cow herds. Goat and sheep’s milk doesn’t contain the A1 beta-casein, which makes them more tolerable overall. However, A2 can cause problems for other people because the two caseins are actually very similar. They are differentiated by just one amino acid in their protein chain. 

Alternatives to cow’s milk

Sheep milk has a higher nutritional value and concentration of protein, fat, minerals, and vitamins compared to goat and cow milk. Goat milk has a nutrient profile that is similar to human milk and is also easier to digest than cow milk.

Camel’s milk is also available in some areas of the world, as well as yak milk in China, buffalo milk in India, while some cultures even consume donkey and horse milk! Camel milk has been enjoyed by nomadic cultures for centuries, and is now available mostly in powdered and frozen form. 

Camel milk contains more nutrients and less lactose than cow’s milk and has been found to have a range of other benefits including aiding with brain health, lowering blood sugar, and boosting insulin levels and immunity. 

Yak milk is also heralded for its nutrient content. The China Nutrition Society found that the amino acids and calcium content of yak milk is 15% higher than cow’s milk and contains considerably more vitamin A. 

Buffalo milk has a high nutritional value, too. It contains more protein, fat and calcium, however it does contain more lactose. 

Donkey milk is comparable to cow’s milk in many ways. It does contain 14% more vitamin D, however, and was found in a small study to be tolerable to children with an allergy to cow’s milk. 

Horse milk contains very high levels of vitamin A, B-family vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin E in quantities higher than cow’s milk, and is thought to provide a range of benefits such as relieving the symptoms of eczema and detoxifying the body. 

Read Labels Carefully 

Even cheeses traditionally made with sheep and goat milk (such as feta) are often made with cow milk in the U.S. If it simply lists “milk” as an ingredient, it’s made from cow milk. The best dairy substitutes are the purest and don’t contain a lot of ingredients, particularly ones you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce. Natural is always better, so check for e-numbers and other added chemicals. Also check for natural, yet undesirable, ingredients on the label such as cane sugar. Go for unsweetened varieties to which you can add stevia or another healthy sweetener.

If you develop issues, try Complete Enzymes for optimal digestive health. I designed these digestive enzymes specifically for those with digestive issues, food sensitivities, and nutrient absorption challenges. They provide a wide range of plant and microbial-based enzymes for maximum digestive potency. 

Complete Enzymes does more than digest substances that your body isn’t able to break down. It can assist with tackling GI tract issues by breaking down inflammatory antigens and help keep your gut microbiome in balance. For general digestive support, I recommend taking digestive enzymes just before a meal. If you think you’ve inadvertently eaten something inflammatory, you can also take Complete Enzymes right after. I never travel or dine out without slipping a bottle into my purse!

Complete Enzymes bottle