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Do you stay away from milk or milk products because you think you have a milk allergy or lactose intolerance? Find out the difference, and learn what to do if you really are allergic to milk.
A milk allergy is a reaction to the proteins found in milk. Your body’s immune system reacts to the milk proteins and then triggers a variety of symptoms.
Lactose intolerance describes your body’s reaction to the natural sugar (called lactose) found in milk. It is not an allergy and does not involve your immune system. If you are lactose intolerant, your body doesn’t have enough lactase which is an enzyme needed to help break down lactose.
Your family doctor can help determine whether you have a milk allergy or lactose intolerance.
The symptoms of a milk allergy can start either right away or hours after drinking milk or eating a food that contains milk. Some of the common symptoms are:
In rare cases, a milk allergy can be life-threatening.
Lactose intolerance also causes stomach cramps, gas, diarrhea and vomiting. But rash, hives, runny nose, coughing and swelling are NOT symptoms of lactose intolerance.
According to the Allergy Asthma Information Association, 2-3% of infants are allergic to milk, and most of them will grow out of a milk allergy by the time they are three years old.
Stricter Canadian guidelines require that milk-containing products are clearly labeled. The ingredient list will say “contains: milk” if it contains this ingredient.
Reading the ingredients on a food package is another good way to make sure that you don’t eat foods that contain milk or other hidden sources of milk.
For more food and non-food sources of milk and milk protein sources, see this factsheet Milk Allergy, by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Drink fortified soy beverage. One cup contains as much calcium and vitamin D as a cup of milk. Drink at least 2 cups of fortified soy beverage every day to get enough vitamin D.
Drink calcium fortified orange juice. One cup contains as much calcium as a cup of milk, and some brands contain vitamin D too. Check the labels.
Eat other calcium-containing foods such as almonds, canned salmon (with the bones), beans and bok choy. See Food Sources of Calcium and the Calcium Calculator for a list of more calcium-containing foods.
Take a calcium supplement. Learn more about choosing Calcium Supplements that are right for you.
Managing a Milk Allergy by Hospital for Sick Children
Food Allergies and Intolerances by EatRightOntario
Be Food Allergy Aware when Packing School Lunches by Health Canada
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Dietitians of Canada acknowledges the financial support of EatRight Ontario by the Ontario government. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Province.