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Dairy-Free Diets for Children

By Pik Ho

If your family has a history of food allergies or lactose intolerance, you might want to put your children on a dairy free diet to avoid symptoms such as diarrhea, gas, vomiting and fussiness. Even if such history is not apparent in your family, you might still want your children to go dairy free due to the link between dairy and prostate cancer, breast cancer, obesity, diabetes and certain cardiovascular diseases.

Foods to Avoid

Besides avoiding the obvious milk--including condensed, evaporated, powdered, dry, whole, low-fat and skim--butter, cream, cheese, yogurt, curd, custard, butter fat, sour cream, pudding and ice cream, you must get into the habit of checking food labels when you buy manufactured goods. Watch out for the hidden dairy ingredients such as whey, lactose, casein and caseinates.

Avoid bakery goods including cakes, breads, cookies and pastries, all of which almost always contain butter and milk as ingredients.

Other foods that usually contain milk protein are luncheon meat, chocolate, high-protein flour and flavorings.

Also avoid deli meats because they are often contaminated with cheese when prepared.

When eating out, always ask about the ingredients. Avoid cream-based sauce and soup. Ask about the coatings used for fried foods and whether milk is used for scrambled eggs and pancakes.

Avoid condiments such as blue cheese and ranch dressings.

Many medications contain lactose. Look at the ingredient labels or ask your doctor.

Foods to Substitute

Milk substitutes are usually based on soy, such as soy milk and tofu. Coconut cream is another alternative. You can use vegetable shortenings in place of butter. Vegan cheese can replace cheese. Other soy-based or rice-based frozen desserts, sorbets, puddings and ice pops are easily found in the market.

There are soy hot dogs and soy sausages available. Read the food label before purchasing, since some of them may contain casein as an ingredient to boost up the protein content.

When you eliminate dairy products from a diet, you are taking away much dietary calcium. Make sure your children meet their calcium needs with non-dairy foods that are high in calcium. They include dark green veggies, beans, nuts, seafood and shellfish, and calcium-fortified orange juice, rice milk, soy milk and tofu.

Look for foods with Kosher labeling, which are marked Parve or Pareve and are certified dairy free.


If you are concerned about the calcium intake of your children, talk with your doctor about calcium supplementation.

Be aware that vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption and is produced by the body under sunlight exposure. Therefore, increasing your children's sun exposure can enhance calcium absorption.

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