Milk Allergies & Alternatives

What is a milk allergy?

A milk allergy is an immunological response to the protein found in milk.  It is commonly diagnosed among children but the allergy often disappears after the age of three.  Most common milk allergy symptoms can be mild such as irritability, vomiting, and colic.  Some children may experience more severe symptoms such as anaphylaxis and hives.

What is lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is the inability to break down the sugar (lactose) found in milk due to a deficiency of the enzyme lactase.  It is more common in older children and adults.  Symptoms for lactose intolerance are abdominal pain, bloating, gas, nausea, and diarrhea.

Dairy products and lactose intolerance

Most people with mild to moderate lactose intolerance are able to consume small amounts of milk and other dairy products such as cheese.  Yogurt and hard cheese have lower levels of lactose than fresh milk products.  Most of these individuals can tolerate 8 ounces or 1 cup of milk with food without having symptoms such as bloating.


Those with more severe intolerance, who have severe symptoms soon after consuming any milk products, may be able to eat lactose-free dairy products. There are lactose-free milks, cottage cheese, ice cream and yogurts available at the grocery store.  People who still have symptoms after dietary accommodations can take over-the-counter lactase enzyme drops or tablets which may make milk products more tolerable for those with lactose intolerance.

Alternative milk products

There are various milk-type beverages that are plant-based made from soy beans, nuts, and grains. If you are interested in trying these types of milk or are already drinking them, there are a few points to consider nutritionally.  Look for a product that has nutrition content similar as cow’s milk.


  • Milk is our main source for calcium and vitamin D- Calcium 30 % Vitamin D 25 %
  • Look for alternative with 12 grams of fat or less
  • Adequate amount of protein- about 9 grams
  • Low amount of carbohydrates- about 12 grams


Enriched soymilk has about the same nutrition content as regular milk, often comes in a variety of flavors, and is less expensive as other plant-based milks.  Milks from nuts and grains, such as almond and rice, are great alternatives when replacing dairy ingredients in recipes. Although these types of milks have the same amount of calcium and vitamin D when compared to regular milk, many of them have twice the amount of carbohydrates and have little to no protein.  Each type of plant-based milk tastes different and varies in its liquid consistency.


Look for milk type products that suit your taste, budget, and most importantly, choose a product that is nutritious.  Include the milk beverage of your choice as part of a healthy diet including lean protein foods, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.


National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse [Internet]. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health.  Lactose Intolerance; June 2009; updated April 3, 2012. 


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Note: The source publication is not copyrighted.  The Clearinghouse encourages users of this fact sheet to duplicate and distribute as many copies as desired.

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