What You Need To Know When Going Gluten or Dairy Free

Updated: Apr 28

Confused about what you can and can't eat? Want to make sure you're getting enough calcium? What is casein? Plus, what's the difference between coeliac disease and a gluten allergy or sensitivity? There some important things to know when going gluten and/or dairy free and I cover it all below.

Lactose Free Versus Casein Free

The first thing to realize is that going lactose-free is NOT the same as going dairy-free. Dairy-free means avoiding the casein protein that is found in all dairy products, and is sometimes clarified as casein-free (CF). This includes cows, goats and sheep's milk, cheeses, butter, dairy ice cream, yoghurts and many chocolate products. It also includes lactose-free milk and cheeses which are now readily available in supermarkets.

Lactose is the milk sugar found in dairy and can come in varying quantities. Harder cheeses, for example, are lower in lactose than softer cheeses. Lactose-free products can have the lactase enzyme added to remove the lactose, but the casein is still present.

Sensitivities and allergies to casein protein are common, but so is lactose intolerance. You can react to both casein and excess lactose, or just one. It may be challenging to work out as both sensitivities and intolerances can have a delayed reaction of up to 3 or 4 days.

The protein casein in dairy can resemble gluten to the body, which is why these two often go hand-in-hand.

What about Goat's milk and cheese?

There are two main types of casein protein: Alpha S1 casein and Alpha S2 casein. Most dairy products derived from cows contain the Alpha S1 (A1) protein, and this appears to be more allergic than Alpha S2 (A2). Some, can tolerate goat milk because it is very low in Alpha S1 casein and primarily contains Alpha S2 casein. A2 cow's milk is also available in the supermarket.

If you are still consuming goat milk and cheese, you are not strictly casein-free.

Sheep's and buffalo milk & cheese also contain casein.

What about whey?

Whey is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. It is a byproduct of the manufacture of cheese or casein and has several commercial uses. Whey protein is popular in exercise nutritional supplements.

Whey technically does not contain casein but is often contaminated with it. It is very difficult to find a whey that has been separated 100 percent from the casein. Reactions to whey are also possible, though are much less likely than to casein.

How will I get my calcium if dairy-free?

If you're concerned about getting enough calcium, please make sure you include some of the following foods in your meals daily. Absorption of calcium is thought to be better from plant based sources anyway. (50% compared to 32%).

Calcium is also not the only nutrient important for bone health. Magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin K, in some ways are more so.

What can I drink instead of cow's milk?

Non-dairy milk alternatives can include coconut, oat, almond, macadamia, cashew, rice, soy, hemp and more. It's recommended to choose unsweetened options and those with the least ingredients and no gums. Organic or homemade is also preferred, particularly for oat and rice milk.

Activated nut milks are also encouraged. But, please be wary of nut milks if you have oxalate toxicity or sensitivity.

Avoid oat milk if needing to go low FODMAP, if wanting to lose weight or if insulin sensitive or resistant. Please also be aware that soy milk is typically highly processed.

What is a good butter substitute?

A high-quality olive oil, frozen, and then place in the fridge can be a great replacement for butter on toast. Coconut oil can also work. Add a little salt if necessary. Olivani, and other processed, inflammatory margarines are not recommended.

The vegan society has some recommendations for dairy-free cheeses and the like.

What is gluten and why is it a common sensitivity?