How to Roast Hen of the Woods Mushrooms
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Home » GFF (Gluten-free friendly), Healthy supermarket picks, No lactose? No problem., Nutrition myths put to the test, Real food for babies

New yogurts for the lactose-and-soy-challenged

Submitted by on March 26, 2009 – 7:53 pm14 Comments
Welcome back to my life, yogurt.

Welcome back to my life, yogurt.

From what I can tell, many people in the nutrition field regard people who claim to be lactose intolerant with a dose of skepticism.  Apparently, some data somewhere shows that many people who think they are actually aren’t, and this data has somehow made its way into nutrition textbooks, causing the aforementioned skepticism.

Now, it is true that it’s very rare for someone to be completely and totally lactose intolerant–as in, they produce zero lactase enzyme and cannot digest even a molecule of lactose.  But that doesn’t change the fact that dairy products in varying forms and varying doses cause a lot of people a lot of grief.  The party line is that people who have some sort of lactase deficiency may not be able to drink a glass of milk, but they can often tolerate yogurt and cheese, since the culturing process helps break down some of the lactose.  My experience has been that this may be true for some people, but certainly not for  everyone.  The only way to know, unfortunately, is through trial and error.  Which means that for some lactose intolerant people, even yogurt may be off limits. Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other ways to get calcium in your diet if you can’t eat dairy, but few of them are quite as convenient, ubiquitous, portable and tasty as yogurt. I’ll confess: when I watch you eat yogurt, I get major yogurt envy.

First, let’s face our tormentor for a moment:

Lactose is the natural form of sugar found in milk, and is composed of two simple sugars (monosaccharides) called glucose and galactose that are bonded together.  Since our guts prefer to digest their sugars in monosaccharide form, we have cells on the tips of the fingerlike projections (called villi) in our intestines that secrete digestive enzymes to break down disaccharides into monosaccharides so that they can be absorbed.  The enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose is called lactase.  Lactase production is essential for human survival, since infants rely exclusively on (human) milk to survive for their first several months of life.  It is incredibly rare–and often fatal–for a baby to be born with lactose intolerance.  But as luck (or evolution) would have it, most people on earth are genetically programmed to produce less lactase as we get older, presumably since milk wasn’t supposed to be our sole source of nutrition anymore.   How much less lactase you produce will determine to what extent you can tolerate foods that contain lactose.  Are you with me?

(As an aside, because the lactase-producing cells are located on the tips of the intestinal villi, anything that damages the villi can result in a temporary form of lactose intolerance until they have the chance to regenerate.  This commonly happens if you have a nasty bout of diarrhea that lasts more than a couple of days– or perhaps if you’ve had undiagnosed celiac disease for awhile that caused inflammation and damage to your intestinal lining.  Now, say, if your child has mild diarrhea for a day or two, there’s absolutely no need to withhold milk.  But if there’s some severe diarrhea going on or a chronic condition, it’s probably a good idea to lay off the cow juice until their guts have a chance to heal a bit.)

Why your intestines freak out when you have lactose intolerance (scientifically speaking)

Now, what happens if you can’t break down lactose in your intestine?  Well, depending on how much you ate, it will increase the sugar concentration in your gut by a little or a lot.  And if you’ll remember back to that lesson on osmosis from your 8th grade biology class, this draws water into your intestines from the little blood vessels that surround them in an attempt to dilute the sugary contents.  Anytime lots of of water rushes into your pipes, diarrhea is not far behind.  Additionally, the undigested lactose keeps moving along into your colon, where it meets the friendly bacteria who live there.  And these bacteria are most delighted to feast on the sugary bounty you’ve fed them.  As they digest the lactose that you couldn’t, they put off gasses as a byproduct.  This is what accounts for the flatulence.  Fun!

Finally!  Some lactose-free yogurt options.

Back to the yogurt dilemma.  I’ve been waiting for years for the Lactaid brand to come out with a lactose-free yogurt.  But I guess they were too busy counting their money from sales of their lactose-free milks, ice creams and cottage cheeses to bother.  Or maybe they read the same textbook I did and believed that all lactose intolerant people could eat yogurt just fine.  (Not all of us can.)  Or maybe they saw how much soy yogurt is sold at supermarkets and thought that lactose-intolerant people had a perfectly acceptable yogurt substitute so they didn’t need to bother making us another one. (Um… have they *tasted* soy yogurt?  It tastes chemically and weird to me.  Plus, it’s not as if soy is a digestive walk in the park.  If I’m going to be gassy anyway, I’d rather just eat real yogurt. Sheesh.)

As the yogurt aisle grew longer, and options proliferated, I became even more despondent that, with all of these choices, there still wasn’t one suitable for the intestinally-challenged.  And then, as I looked across the crowded aisle, my eyes locked with two new yogurts that looked like they were made just for people like me.

cowThe first one was a no-brainer product that I was hoping Lactaid would have come up with eons ago: an organic, cow’s milk yogurt made with low-fat lactose-free milk.  It’s a brand called “True,” it comes from Vermont, and it tastes way better than any conventional yogurt I remember having.  I love that it has a very short ingredient list and no artificial flavors, sweeteners or preservatives.  The vanilla flavor tastes like actual vanilla bean, not that fakey chemically vanilla flavor.  And its sweetened just enough to taste good, but it’s not loaded full of sugar.  It is dee-licious. Unfortunately, I had to pay a premium for this yogurt that met every single criterion on my checklist: it cost $1.79 for a 5 oz container at Whole Foods.  But maybe prices will come down once you all start buying it, too.

*** 2010 update:  since originally posting this, the True Yogurt company had ceased production due to loss of their facilities.  Fortunately, in summer 2010, a new 100% lactose-free yogurt brand called Green Valley Organics hit the market to replace it.   For other ideas on super-low lactose yogurt options made from cow’s milk (but not 100% lactose-free), check out my post on MORE Yogurt Options for the Lactose-Challenged.

coconut_yogurt_vanilla2The second product I discovered is called  So Delicious, and it’s made from coconut milk instead of cow’s milk, so it’s naturally lactose-free. Because it contains no dairy at all, it’s appropriate for vegans and people who are actually allergic to cow’s milk protein (caesin).  I think it’s a pretty decent product:  one 6oz container has 150 calories, which is the same amount as a Dannon All-Natural vanilla yogurt, but more than one of those light/recuced calorie yogurts; it has too much sugar added for sure, but no more than most other yogurts out there, and actually less than the Dannon we just referenced; and it’s fortified with 25% of your calcium for the day in a form that is very well absorbed. As a bonus, they throw in some vitamin B12, which is a difficult vitamin to get from the diet if you’re a vegetarian.  As far as taste goes, you definitely get the subtle coconut flavor in the background, which I quite like.  It certainly beats the not-so-subtle soybean flavor of soy yogurts in my book.  (This company also makes soy yogurt, though, so don’t confuse the two.)  I liked it, and think it’s a very respectable yogurt substitute for the dairy and soy-challenged.

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  • Karen M says:

    It isn’t just the lactose. Sometimes, it’s the caseine.

    Anyway… I love this yogurt. The only flavor I haven’t tried is the mango (not one of my favorite fruits). Too bad they don’t make a peach version in the coconut milk (it only comes in soy), but I sometimes add a bit of peach preserves to the plain, and it’s really good.

  • Eric says:

    Isn’t the whole problem that l acidophilis eats only lactose? The characteristic tanginess of yogurt comes from lactic acid made by the little bugs. Any active cultured yogurt made from lactose-free milk would have to use a different bacteria making a different waste product and would therefore taste different.

  • Tamara says:

    Hi, Eric,
    Yogurts are made with multiple strains of bacteria (including l. acidophillus, but also L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus and bifidus.) These bacteria can ferment a variety of carbohydrate substrates–not just lactose–and produce lactic acid as a by-product. Lactic acid is what is responsible for the characteristic tanginess of a yogurt. Therefore, even cultured non-dairy yogurt substitutes can have a yogurty flavor. Off-flavors tend to be the result of other factors–like in soy yogurt, for example, the weird taste is the result of the beany flavor of the soybean itself, not any problems with the fermentation process. Hope this helps!

  • Megan says:

    I want to thank you for this post. I myself just discovered the existence of the coconut milk products, however my local Ralphs only carries the desert selection and none of the yogurt, but now I know I can go to Whole Foods for the other brand. And I am one of those who is completely and utterly intolerant of lactose so thanks for the info.

  • Linda says:

    Thanks for the great info. I will be going to whole foods today and can’t wait to try both of your suggestions.

  • […] I’ve written previously about lactose-free and soy-free yogurt options for those among us with uncooperative digestive systems. The yogurt which established a new Greek Empire in your supermarket […]

  • Linda says:

    I have been eating half a container of So Delicious mixed with berries, a little Kashi, and a small amount of walnuts. I am concerned that the saturated fat in this yoghurt is making my cholesterol go up. It has gone up by 30 points in the last 3 months! I must also add that this may be due to other medical issues and medications. But my question is: So Delicious says it has no cholesterol, but does have saturated fat. Does this saturated fat lead to an increase in blood cholesterol even though the product does not initially have cholesterol? I am lactose intolerant and thought I found the perfect solution, but now I’m not sure. I also notice the product is quite high in added sugar.

  • Tamara says:

    Saturated fat contributes to increased blood cholesterol MORE SO than dietary cholesterol, so in theory, adding more saturated fat to the diet could result in increased cholesterol.
    Having said that, there are 5g per container, and you’re only eating half of a container (2.5g). If this is the only additional saturated fat in your diet in the past 3 months, I’d be pretty surprised if this is truly what has caused such a dramatic increase in blood cholesterol! (Especially since you’re also eating cholesterol-lowering berries and walnuts!) Of course, all the sugar doesn’t help; perhaps switching to the plain flavor would be a step in the right direction.
    I’d probably look to some of the other medications/health issues as possible culprits before giving up on your mere 3oz of coconut milk yogurt per day… but if you’re still concerned, have you tested your tolerance for fat-free plain greek yogurt? It’s not lactose free, but its quite low in lactose (half the amount of regular yogurt), and you may well be able to tolerate 3oz of that quite readily.

  • Celene says:

    Thanks for the dicussion about yoghurt. Over this past summer, I found that I was unwilling to pay the high price for commercial yoghurt that 1) is loaded with sugar and preservatives and 2) isn’t organic. To solve the problem, I am now happily making my own with a vintage Salton yoghurtmaker I had back in the 1970’s that I found in a box of old college stuff while cleaning out the attic. It only takes about an hour or so a week, and I am using either 1% or 2% organic milk ($1.39 – $2.39 per quart depending on the dairy, which makes 5 6oz. servings) plus yoghurt starter from my local co-op. After processing, I store it unsweetened for up to 3 weeks and stir in a couple of dropperfuls of zero glycemic index, vanilla-creme flavor, liquid stevia to sweeten just before I open and eat each individual serving, either plain or sometimes with fresh-sliced seasonal fruit–and maybe a little cinnamon. Ya-um!! It takes me about a week to eat them all. I haven’t costed it out exactly, but I figure I’m saving quite a lot, as a quick scan of my past year’s grocery receipts shows I was paying as high as $4.99 for a 16 oz. container of Greek Gods yoghurt, which after several years of trying everything out there, was the only brand I really was addicted to and was overeating 2 or 3 of a week, which comes out to a budget-busting $12 – $15 a week! I am happy to finally break that addiction, from the standpoint of my waistline, my arteries, and my pocketbook! (On the topic of addiction, I have heard that dairy is mildly addicting, containing some sort of caseinate compound intended as a mild “incentive” to make sure baby calves return to mama for their next feeding and don’t wander off and starve. Does anyone know if that is true?)

    I have been thinking of trying the lactose free milk to make my homemade yoghurt, just to see how it comes out, but when I tried the Lactaid milk product a few times 4 or 5 years ago just for drinking, it tasted so obnoxiously sweet to me, that I gave up on it. I’d rather go with the zero glycemic stevia as the sweetener. It’s expensive, $9 – $11 per bottle, but is so powerful that one 2 fl. oz. bottle lasts for 6 – 8 weeks and it’s totally sugarfree. I agree on the disappointing flavor of soy yoghurt, so I think my next yoghurt-making adventure will be trying out the coconut milk thing after reading your blog. After that, maybe almond milk!! It’s so satifying making my own, and fun to experiment, whatever the base “milk” product might be. Thank you so much for the idea!

    I think home yoghurt-making should make a comeback! It’s so easy and so wholesome. Hope this is helpful to your readers. Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

  • Golnaz Bozorgzad says:

    I had a question regarding yogurt and soy. I have been recently diagnosed with a soy allergy, and I am waiting to get my results from my dr’s office because they have given me no help with this. I don’t know what kinds of soy….and I am very confused as I feel like this was kind of sudden, and I’m still trying to figure it all out. I love dairy, so I was relieved to find out it wasn’t a dairy allergy as I thought it was, but now I feel like maybe the soy allergy is worse!! Everything has soy in it!! and if its not in the product it says made on a facility that shares soy products. I’m still a little bit confused when I look at the ingredients in products as there are so many other oils and additives that are soy derivatives. Are there any yogurts or any other products you can recommend that are soy free but might not necessarily be dairy free?? I have tried the Almond milk yogurts and found they taste very chemically and I did not like them at all. I also bought the So Delicious coconut milk yogurt, but haven’t tried it yet as I’ve been having other stomach issues when I put anything in my mouth. I was just wondering if there was anything you could recommend. Thank you for your amazing website!! Love it!!

  • Tamara says:

    When reading a label for soy allergy, note that soybean oil and soy lecithin should be safe– they are very highly refined products in which no traces of allergenic protein are found. The only exception would be cold-pressed or expeller pressed soy oil.

    Regular dairy yogurts should all be soy-free…

  • Lindsey E. says:

    I just want to thank you for sharing this. You may be suprised but I’m not only allergic to milk, but I’m also Celiac’s Disease and highly allergic to ALL seafood, so you can imagine my dilemma in trying to find foods I can eat. And by choice I choose not to eat Soy due to it being horrible for you and has been proven to cause cancer. So I have been looking for a truly lactose free yogurt for like a year almost 2. Now I drink Lactaid but my nose still stays stuffy. I went to my local Public to ask them to carry Lactaif cheese and yogurt, however, it’s been 6wks since I asked and nothing. I’ve also asked Wal-Mart to carry it and still nothing. So I guess my next stop is going to Whole Foods which I’m hoping I can find some new good things to eat.

  • susan says:

    I make lactose free yogurt from organic lactose free milk (there are others out there than LACTAID). It is yummy. My original starter is Siggis, and use my own yogurt after that until I accidentally eat all the yogurt. I keep the whey to use on my face, hair, skin and plants. The whey is also very healthy, but I was concerned that it might contain additional lactose. I will start giving it a second straining to see if that helps. The only way that I have found to remove all the lactose is the “miceller” process which seems way beyond me. So I think I may add lactaid to my whey so I may uise it in cooking. Does anyone have experience to offer me?