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Food for thought: Dealing with lactose intolerance

By Jason Wong
On January 22, 2014

As I learned a couple years ago, lactose intolerance is something that can happen suddenly, even in adulthood, and is a serious enough condition that one's diet must be modified accordingly. It's not as life-threatening as gluten is to someone with a celiac disease, or peanuts to someone with a peanut allergy, but like the aforementioned conditions, it can't just be ignored. Not respecting the body's lack of lactase can result in extended trips to the bathroom, and even the ingesting of lactase pills can still leave a lactose intolerant person unsociably gassy.
So what is a lactose intolerant student to do? Many of the dishes at UConn contain dairy, and moreover, many recipes call for the use of milk or cheese to add creaminess or flavor to the end product. Well, depending on the severity of the lactose intolerance, some dairy products can actually be (moderately) consumed without fear of gastric distress. Foods that contain lower levels of lactose than milk, such as yogurt and hard cheeses (e.g. Swiss or cheddar) can sometimes be an option for some lactose intolerants.
There are of course lactose-free products that are widely available at any supermarket. These products have had the lactase enzyme added, and may taste sweeter than normal, though they will keep for just as long as regular milk products. Additionally, there are other substitutes for milk that can work quite well in recipes or just plain.
One such substitute is soy milk. It is considered "heartier" than the other milk alternatives, and is recommended if you need or are craving something that is thick and creamy. Be warned though, the taste of soy milk varies greatly across brands, and it carries with it a strong flavor, even plain. It may not be the best alternative to use when baking a delicate dessert such as angel food cake.
For that kind of thing, rice milk is an alternative to be considered. It is the lightest, sweetest and arguably most refreshing of the milk substitutes. It works very well in sweet desserts and other sweet-baked goods, and it can even do well in some curries as well as lighter cream soups and sauces. However, because of its inherent sweetness, it is best avoided when making anything particularly savory.
Oat milk can be a good substitute for someone who prefers the taste of low-fat or skim milk. Unlike the two aforementioned alternatives, oat milk works well for any dairy-necessary dish, whether sweet or savory. Other alternatives include almond milk and coconut milk, both of which carry strong flavor (nutty and coconutty respectively), and work well only in specific instances. For example, coconut milk can be an excellent addition to curry, giving it a slightly sweet fragrance. It is an essential ingredient in Malaysian curry.
Substituting for cheese is difficult, as there are only a few soy cheese substitutes, and they are rather subpar in my opinion. Butter can of course be substituted with margarine, but if you're planning on using it to bake, make sure that you purchase margarine that is low in water content and high in fat content. High water content margarine results in inferior baked goods.
 


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