I can't have dairy but which dairy products are really the issue?

People often come to me, saying “I can’t have dairy.” The question then is which dairy foods bother them and why. Is the problem just one animal’s milk? Or is it one constituent of milk? Milk contains protein, sugar, water, calcium, and a membrane. Which is to blame?


Cow milk protein

Some people have an allergy to cow milk protein. The National Health Service deals with such allergies in the UK, although there are not enough allergists to go around. There are tests, although we should not rely 100% on any test. If you are allergic to cow milk protein, the answer is to try goat, buffalo or sheep products. They have different proteins. I happily eat goat cheese and butter but avoid cow and sheep products.

Babies who are allergic to cow milk formula can take goat milk formula. There is still a risk that they will develop a goat milk protein allergy, but that would take time, and by then the baby may be old enough to tolerate foods other than milk.

Milk sugar

Some people have an intolerance to milk sugar, which is also called lactose. They have a problem breaking the double sugar, lactose, into the two simple sugars, glucose and galactose. Names for sugars end in -ose. The enzyme that does this breaking down is lactase. Names for enzymes end in -ase. That one letter makes all the difference to the meaning of the word.

People whose ancestors lived in the tropics often lose their lactase at around four years of age. Because of this, people in India and Africa tend to drink sour milk, which has less sugar in it or eat cheese and yoghurt.

If you have lactose intolerance, traces of lactose are not a problem. Butter and hard cheese contain hardly any sugar and are safe for those with lactose intolerance.

Most people with Northern ancestors can break down lactose into glucose and galactose. However, this can be a problem for a while after having a gut infection. The gut needs a rest from lactose at this time.

Unwanted gut microbes

Lactose that is not broken down is a problem. We were not designed to transport lactose from the gut to the bloodstream. So it lingers in the gut, feeding unwanted microbes. That can lead to digestive symptoms. People with irritable bowel syndrome often improve when they cut out milk.


Even if you can break down lactose into glucose and galactose, there is still a problem. A few people are born unable to tolerate galactose. This needs to be identified early, and these babies need special galactose-free formula milk. Even their mother’s milk is no good for them. If the issue is not addressed early, they become seriously handicapped. Most people seem to tolerate galactose, but this sugar causes deposits in artery walls, slowly narrowing arteries. Galactose is a toxic sugar.

Excessive calcium

Calcium is essential for the nervous system, bones and teeth, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Calcium in arteries can lead to heart attacks and strokes. People on high dairy diets, who also take large doses of calcium prescribed by their doctors, are at risk. It is important to consume enough magnesium and vitamin K2 to deal with calcium safely.

Magnesium is available to us in green vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds. Vitamin K2 is produced by fermentation and is in cheese and yoghurt, as well as in sauerkraut, and other fermented foods. If you avoid fermented foods then use vitamin K2 supplements. Vitamin K2 is sold in two forms, MK4 and MK7. You need only a little MK7, but if you use MK4, you need much more.

Clotting problems

Milk contains fatty globules, surrounded by a membrane. This membrane, at least in cow milk, causes platelets to clump together so that the blood clots. There is a lot of this membrane in buttermilk and cream. If you do not want a heart attack or stroke, it is wise to avoid milk, cream and buttermilk. Heart disease death is highly associated with milk consumption, but not with cheese. So eat cheese for your calcium.


For years people were told to avoid fats, in particular, saturated fats. There is no basis for this advice. Unsaturated omega six fats, like sunflower oil, are inflammatory. So eat hard butter, not spreadable butter, which is usually a mixture of butter and sunflower oil. Some saturated fats are very useful for the integrity of the gut. They are butyric acid from butter and myristic and lauric acids from coconut.


Some people make too much oxalate from meat protein, which risks kidney stones and other problems. For them, cheese is a good option.


If you can’t have cow milk protein, try goat, sheep or buffalo. If you can’t have lactose, have hard cheese and butter. If you want to avoid a heart attack, have cheese and hard butter. If you really can’t have any dairy products, then you can make a delicious porridge with finger millet, also known as red teff. Ask for ragi flour, at an Asian supermarket or website. This is the only grain that is rich in calcium. I hope one day the health food shops will stock it.

If you really can’t have any dairy product, even butter, eat coconut oil for your gut. You can buy the tasty one, or the tasteless one if you prefer.

There is rarely a need to avoid all dairy products. We have different genes. It is a matter of understanding which dairy products are bad for you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Stockport, Cheshire, SK4 3NP
Written by Margaret Moss, MA UCTD DipION MBANT CBiol MRSB
Stockport, Cheshire, SK4 3NP

Margaret Moss.

Nutrition and Allergy Clinic
11, Mauldeth Close


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