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The number of reports of people suffering from food intolerances is rapidly increasing. Dairy and lactose, wheat, gluten, alcohol and yeast are the most common food intolerances, and consequently the ‘free from’ aisles in the supermarkets are growing in size every year. So, with this in mind, are there any health benefits from dairy milk alternatives?

Many of us are becoming increasingly aware of our health and wellbeing, and our diets are under close scrutiny. Not only are we generally choosing to eat more nutritious diets, but the rise in IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and serious inflammatory bowel conditions (such as Coeliac, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis and diverticular disease) is resulting in countless people opting for ‘free from’ alternatives.

The symptoms of food intolerances can vary dramatically. However, extreme fatigue, lethargy and tiredness, stomach aches and pains, constipation and / or diarrhoea, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), skin problems – including eczema, acne, hives and rashes, weight loss or weight gain, asthma, sinus problems and migraines are many of the most commonly reported.

A food intolerance differs greatly from a food allergy. An intolerance will display symptoms 24 to 48 hours after a trigger food is consumed. However, a food allergy is far more serious and causes your immune system to trigger a severe and rapid response, which can include anaphylactic shock. Approximately two people in every 100 suffer from a food allergy, whereas it is estimated that 60% of the UK population suffers from one or more food intolerances.

So with dairy and lactose being amongst the main food intolerance culprits, we felt it was time to take a look at which dairy milk alternatives are the best:

1. Coconut milk
Coconuts are naturally lactose free, which makes them a safe and tasty alternative if you’re intolerant to cows’ milk or soya. Furthermore, coconuts in their raw and natural form offer an array of essential vitamins, nutrients and minerals, including vitamins C and E, B vitamins, iron, calcium, selenium, and magnesium. Coconut milk is low in calories, with an average 200ml glass containing approximately 40 calories.

2. Almond milk
Almonds are extremely high in Vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that helps to protect your cells from oxidative stress. Vitamin E is also excellent for maintaining optimal skin health and a glowing complexion. Almond milk is very low in both fat and calories, with an average 200ml glass containing 25 calories. It is also very easy to digest and is high in protein and fortified with calcium. Furthermore, almond milk is lactose free and contains no cholesterol.

3. Rice milk
Containing many essential nutrients found in both the bran and germ of whole grain rice, rice milk is a popular dairy milk alternative. However, whilst it does have many pros – which include containing essential vitamins and minerals, no lactose and very little fat or cholesterol, it does pose a few health risks too. It is not suitable for diabetics. Rice is naturally high in starch, which in diabetics can cause a peak in blood sugar levels. Plus, it is also very low in protein and calcium (unless fortified).

4. Soya milk
Soya is an excellent source of plant-based protein and is full of many essential amino acids. It contains, and is also often fortified with, calcium and iron. Furthermore, soya milk contains B Vitamins, including B-2 and B-12. However, there are disadvantages associated with soya, too. Some brands of soya milk contain very high levels of sugar which means they are unsuitable for diabetics – or anyone wanting to lose weight or enjoy a healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, there has been quite a lot of negative press about the possible link between soya consumption and the increase in breast cancer. Soya contains chemicals similar in structure to oestrogen. However, more research on the matter is required.