It is important to know the difference between lactose free foods and dairy free foods, specifically if one suffers from a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance. In normal parlance, people often assume the two dietary restrictions are the same however there are key differences that should be noted.
Dairy free foods are those items that contain no milk product. Some people are allergic to dairy, and have what you call a milk allergy. A milk allergy is often the result of the body’s inability to tolerate casein (a protein present in milk). An intolerance of casein can result in itchiness, diarrhea, vomiting, and a difficulty to breathe. This happens because the individual’s immune system perceives the casein present in milk as dangerous substances and releases histamines to attack it (a reaction that occurs in all allergies). Milk allergies are always to be treated with great care, as they can be life threatening.
Lactose free foods are those food items that contain no lactose. Lactose is a sugar, and is most often present in dairy products like milk, cheese and cream. When we digest lactose, our body breaks it down into two basic sugars, which are then easily absorbed into our bodies. The absorption of the sugars is assisted by the enzyme lactase. If we do not have enough of the lactase enzyme in our bodies, our body has a difficult time breaking down lactose, making the absorption of the sugars, difficult on our bodies, resulting in stomach aches, bloating and gas. Those individuals, who do not have the lactase enzyme, or enough of it to assist in the absorption of lactose, are lactose intolerant. To avoid the complications associated with lactose intolerance, individuals can choose to eat lactose free foods, or take lactase supplements. An inability to absorb lactose, while it can cause complications and be highly uncomfortable, is not life threatening.
Foods labeled dairy free are foods that contain no milk or milk product, and are entirely devoid of the casein protein, manufactured particularly for people with milk allergies. Lactose free foods are food items without any lactose sugar in them (they can still contain the casein protein and other dairy elements). While foods manufactured dairy free or lactose free are designed for those with allergies or intolerance, they pose no harm to individuals who have no allergies or intolerance.