Lactose and general dairy intolerances and/or allergies are not uncommon.
In fact, many keto people are sensitive to lactose (and sometimes milk proteins, including casein and whey). And, due to their high-fat, low-carb nature, dairy products like heavy cream, sour cream, cheeses, and certain low-carb yogurts are often consumed in greater quantities on a ketogenic (keto) diet.
Lactose- & Dairy-Free Keto Substitutes
Fortunately, there are several dairy substitutes available that will allow you to stay and live a dairy-free keto life! These include:
- Butter alternatives: Coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, vegan butter, cocoa butter, coconut butter, ghee (may have trace amounts of milk protein or lactose)
- Cream alternatives: Coconut cream
- Milk alternatives: Unsweetened nut-milk beverages like almond, cashew, and coconut
- Ice cream alternatives: Coconut ice cream-low carb versions for keto
- Yogurt alternatives: Nut-based yogurts (coconut, cashew, etc)
- Sour cream alternatives: Vegan or coconut yogurt, cashew sour cream
- Cheese alternatives: Vegan cheeses
- Protein powders (whey and casein based) alternatives: Beef protein, egg white protein, and pea protein powders
Should you go lactose- or dairy-free?
Some people may have lactose or milk-protein intolerance without even knowing it. If your body struggles to tolerate a specific food, chronic ingestion of that food leads to inflammation of the gut and poor absorption of nutrients. If you’ve been following a well-formulated keto diet for a couple months and still find yourself struggling to lose weight, lack energy, experience headaches, brain-fog, and/or persistent digestion issues, you may want to consider troubleshooting your diet through a dairy elimination trial.
Symptoms of dairy intolerance may include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Gas (burping and flatulence)
- Other: headaches, fatigue, eczema, brain-fog, mouth ulcers
Symptoms of a milk allergy:
- Vomiting/diarrhea/stomach pain
These symptoms are most common in infants and children and are typically outgrown by 3-5 years of age.
How to try a 1-month lactose- and dairy-free trial
If you’re unsure whether or not you have a lactose or dairy intolerance, try removing it for one month. This will allow enough time for the gut to heal and lingering side-effects to resolve. After a month, and depending on how you feel, you can try slowly adding back small quantities of high-fat, low-lactose dairy products like heavy cream and cheese. Observe if you feel better, worse, or the same. Depending on your response, you can start adding in other forms of dairy, like sour cream and soft cheese. If symptoms return, well… there’s your answer.
Take note that many people who have a previous dairy or lactose intolerance can often tolerate high-fat versions commonly found on keto like heavy cream, hard cheeses, and ghee. Many high-fat dairy products contain minimal lactose, so if you’re not entirely ready to give up on dairy, troubleshoot with lower-lactose versions and see how you feel before removing it altogether.
Remember, keto is about replacing, not restricting. Don’t be afraid to troubleshoot and customize to find YOUR best keto!
Tara Finnerty RDN, CSP, CD — is a ketogenic specialist and fat-fueled enthusiast. Tara is a registered dietitian in Utah and owner of Sugar House Nutrition LLC. Her aim is to provide nutrition support for people wanting to reap the many health benefits of the ketogenic (keto) diet. Her expertise in the keto diet was initially working with children who have uncontrolled epilepsy. Tara supports nutrition diversity and works toward helping people find an individualized approach to make healthy eating sustainable.