There are millions of people around the world living with dairy allergies. There are two forms of dairy intolerance: lactose intolerance and casein intolerance. Fortunately there are products and ways to avoid the discomforts of consuming lactose and casein-containing products. Lactose-free milk is a solution for those unable to digest lactose, while soy milk contains neither lactose nor casein. Both have their merits, and the right choice for you is dependent upon your condition and preference.
Nearly 80 percent of the world is lactose intolerant. Cheese-eaters are a global minority. However, this does not include the United States, where only about 15 percent have an (admitted) lactose intolerance condition. The majority of lactose-intolerant individuals are Native Americans, Asians from the Far East, Southeast Asians, Africans, African-Americans and Native Australians, although there are many individuals in the Americas and Europe who suffer from the inability to digest lactose. Lactose is the sugar found in all milk types (including breast, goat, cow or sheep) and for many individuals it is difficult to digest due to a lower level of lactase--an enzyme that helps digest lactose--in the body, resulting in symptoms of gas, bloating and diarrhea. There are three ways a lactose-intolerant individual can side-step these discomforts: avoid dairy products altogether, consume products from which the lactose has been removed or take a pill following dairy consumption to counterbalance the effects.
Some individuals who are lactose intolerant (allergic to the lactose in milk) are also casein intolerant. Casein is the dominant protein found in milk, and for individuals allergic to the milk protein, lactose-free milk or lactose pills are not effective. Soy, rice or other completely nondairy substances are the only alternatives for people with both a lactose and casein intolerance.
There are many lactose-free milk brands (and other dairy products such as cheeses, yogurts and creams) available in today's consumer market. Lactose-free milk is essentially 100 percent real milk and can be found in the same varieties as regular milk--whole, low-fat and nonfat--but without the lactose. To achieve this, the milk is treated with the enzyme lactase, which removes the lactose molecules. Therefore, the nutrients and calorie content in lactose-free milk are nearly identical to those found in regular milk.
Soy milk is both a lactose- and casein-free alternative for those with dairy allergies. The milk is made from the soybean plant and is an excellent source of protein. Soy is part of a healthy diet even for those who are not lactose intolerant. Soy milk is an excellent source of lecithin and vitamin E, it contains less saturated fat than dairy milk, it contains isoflavones and is high in protein. The protein in soy milk is about the same as in dairy milk, about 3.5 percent. Soy milk averages about the same number of calories as dairy milk (comparing plain to whole and light to low-fat). However, natural soy milk is not a sufficient source of calcium as is dairy milk, therefore many brands of soy milk are fortified with calcium.
For those who are lactose intolerant only, the choice between lactose-free milk and soy milk is one of preference of taste. Lactose-free milk tends to have a sweeter taste, and soy milk in itself has a very distinct flavor. Soy milk, however, comes in a variety of flavors, including chocolate, vanilla and low-sugar.