Many people complain about their inability to handle dairy products, and may experience unpleasant symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, and gastric discomfort after consuming such products. Such people are unable to digest significant amounts of lactose (the sugar found in dairy products). This inability to digest lactose is due to a shortage of the enzyme called lactase.
Lactose intolerance is fairly easy to treat. Children and adults should cut down the use of lactose-containing foods or try to avoid dairy foods altogether. The degree of lactose avoidance will depend upon the level of lactose tolerance of the person, since individuals differ in the amount of lactose they are able to handle before experiencing symptoms.
Non-dairy products are also growing in popularity amongst those wishing to cut down on their saturated fat and cholesterol intake and those who have a fear of milk-borne diseases. However, the acceptability of non-dairy beverages like soymilk, barley water, depends on personal preferences of taste etc (for e.g soymilk has a distinct flavour and some people may need this to properly masked with suitable flavouring agents).
However, people having lactose intolerance who plan to cut down dairy products substantially should definitely consult their doctor to know about other sources of calcium. Though some non-dairy beverages are fortified with calcium, it is essential to remember that only those fortified with substantial levels of calcium, and vitamins D, B2 and B12 (at least 20-30% of the daily values) should be considered a reasonable substitute for milk.
Note: Label reading is important since formulas change with time.