Lactose intolerance (or dairy intolerance) may seem like it’s becoming a more common digestive problem, but it’s actually always been fairly pervasive. While less than 5% of the UK population is affected, up to 50% of the populations of South America, Africa and Asia suffer from it.
It’s caused when a person doesn’t have an enzyme called lactase, which breaks down the natural sugar found in animal milk and milk products, such as yoghurt and cheese. Common symptoms include bloating, stomach pains or cramps and feeling sick, and usually occur shortly after consuming a food or drink that’s high in lactose.
As we get better at diagnosing such intolerances, the number of alternatives in the shops and the number of people drinking them is rising. Now, I’m not lactose intolerant, but I’m a big advocate of mixing up the diet, so I’m a big fan of oat, rice, soya and nut such as almond and hazelnut, due to the different flavours that each can offer. You don’t need to be lactose intolerant to appreciate them!
Most alternative milks are now fortified with calcium (which helps build strong bones and teeth, and ensures that blood clots normally) and vitamin D (which is important for encouraging the absorption of calcium from food) so they have many of the benefits of normal milk.
Here are my tips on which to use and when, as well as a lovely, easy recipe for homemade almond milk.
My go-to milk alternative in coffee is soya milk because I love the creamy flavour that it offers and its low fat content. According to Cancer Research UK, some studies have found that the high levels of soy products eaten by Asian people could help to reduce the risk of some cancers, but the smaller amounts eaten by Western population are unlikely to have any major benefits. Commercial soya milk is available in both sweetened and unsweetened varieties, so always opt for the sugar-free carton where you can, so to avoid the extra calories.
Commercial rice milk is typically made up of about 14% rice, with the rest being a little oil, salt and water. I find rice milk too watery to add to tea or coffee, but I do like it straight up as it is naturally sweet and low in fat at just 1%.
Milk made from hemp seeds is also becoming more commercially available now. What’s brilliant about that is that a 250ml serving provides 50% of our recommended daily intake for omega-3. Omega 3 is important to maintain a healthy heart and reduce the risk of heart disease when eaten as part of a healthy diet, but there is evidence to suggest that such vegetarian sources of omega 3 may not have these same health benefits as those in oily fish. As ever, this supports the idea that a healthy balanced diet eating from all the food groups in the right quantities is the best diet to follow to ensure that you’re not missing out on any nutrients.
Almond milk is really tasty, with a subtle nuttiness and a light texture. Even though different types of milk are widely commercially available now in supermarkets and health food shops, they are often still quite expensive. Almond milk in particular is often over £3 a litre, but luckily, it’s really easy to make your own at home.
Basic almond milk recipe
Simply soak a cup of almonds in water overnight, then peel, rinse and drain them.
Blitz in a food processor with four cups of water and a few stoned dried dates or a little agave nectar or honey if you would like a little sweetness.
Drape a muslin cloth over a wide jug or bowl and pour the mixture through.
Once it’s all in the muslin, squeeze the milk out of the bag carefully and keep back the leftover pulp, which can be dried and pulsed even more in a food processor and made into almond flour to use in baking.
It’s then ready to use! The milk will keep in the fridge for a few days, but stir just before each serving, as it will naturally separate over time.
This recipe is only a principle – once you’ve got it down you can use most kinds of nuts and even seeds. One of my favourites is making hazelnut milk for Jamie’s date shake to make a fruit-and-nut smoothie!
Make sure to check out our other awesome special diets-related stuff here.