I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream—including all of the vegans, lactose intolerant, and non-dairy people out there.
A dairy-free lifestyle isn’t as intense as a vegan lifestyle, but it still comes with its own set of mini hurdles, such as having to do a little more research into food options and choices.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines ice cream as containing “dairy ingredients.” With that in mind, unless the ice cream is labeled “non-dairy frozen dessert,” it will have at least some dairy in it.
But what is dairy-free ice cream? Dairy-free ice cream is ice cream made with any kind of milk, but specifically cow’s milk. It’s not made with low-fat or skim milk, or anything like that. Dairy-free frozen desserts typically substitute regular milk with plant-based milk such as almond, soy, coconut, or cashew milk, although there are some amazing brands (*cough, cough, Eclipse*) that take it even further. Eclipse makes their ice cream from a blend of plants, including oat, corn & potato to make the taste indistinguishable to dairy.
Dairy-free ice cream may sound outrageous to some people, and that’s ok—it’s still a relatively new concept. Maybe it sounds crazy, something like cheese-less mac and cheese or chocolate-less chocolate chip cookies. We get it.
Except dairy-free ice cream has been rising in popularity for a few years. A report from 2019 found that 60% of American consumers are interested in consuming less meat and dairy. And leading the way for this shift towards more plant-based eating is—drumroll please—ice cream! Non-dairy is the fastest-growing segment of the frozen dessert category. Over the last two years, plant-based ice cream experience 66.7% sales growth. That’s a lot of people enjoying dairy-free ice cream!
There’s power in numbers, and it looks like the numbers are giving dairy-free ice cream a double thumbs up.
Are Dairy-Free And Lactose-Free The Same Thing?
The short answer is no, dairy-free and lactose-free are not the same things.
Lactose-free products typically are made from dairy. Lactose is a sugar that naturally occurs in (dairy) milk. For the body to digest lactose, enzymes called “lactase” are required, which break down lactose in the body. Some bodies don’t produce enough of this enzyme to process lactose properly; this is what’s called having lactose intolerance. Something labeled “lactose-free” typically means that it is made from animal dairy, just with the lactose already broken down.
With that said, some brands (like Eclipse) are lactose-free but don’t come from animal milk with the lactose removed. It’s always worth looking at your ingredients list to see what you’re dealing with!
Dairy-free products do not contain any dairy at all. So, it comes back to the question of why you’re interested in dairy-free. Are you trying to eliminate dairy from your diet, or are you just lactose intolerant? If you’re looking to avoid dairy altogether, stick to vegan, dairy-free ice cream.
But Why Dairy-Free?
There are a few reasons why opting for dairy-free products may be the better choice.
Choosing dairy-free ice cream is more environmentally responsible; it requires less water, less land, and emits fewer greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Here are some numbers for you:
Dairy milk requires approximately 120L of water to produce one cup of the final product. Non-dairy milk requires 5L-74L.
To produce one glass of milk every day for a year, dairy milk requires 7,000 sq ft of land, which is more than ten times the amount necessary for the next highest use alternative, oat milk.
More than twice as many greenhouse gases are emitted in the production of a glass of dairy milk than a glass of dairy-free milk.
These averages, reported in a study by the University of Oxford, clearly illustrate that dairy milk is far worse for the planet than plant-based alternatives. Choosing plant-based foods may be the easiest, most significant way to reduce your environmental impact.
Our climate is hurting. Making small changes, such as choosing dairy-free ice cream over regular ice cream, can make a big difference. Dairy-free ice cream can even be indistinguishable from conventional dairy, meaning no sacrifice on taste, texture, or consistency.
With nothing to lose and the planet to help, choosing dairy-free ice cream is a win-win for everyone.
Why NOT Dairy?
We are humans. We are not baby calves. Humans are not supposed to drink milk from cows, which makes sense considering 30 million to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant. But you wouldn’t be able to tell that based on the abundance of dairy products filling grocery stores.
Nausea, cramps, gas, bloating, and diarrhea are common symptoms of lactose intolerance that present with differing severity depending on individual sensitivity. One might think that even a stomachache would deter people from consuming dairy, but surprisingly, this isn’t the case. So, what about the other consequences of dairy?
The absence of dairy commonly leads to an improved skin condition. Removing dairy has been shown to improve skin texture, tone, and brightness. Skin conditions, such as acne, rosacea, and eczema, also see notable improvement when dairy is removed. It’s the whey, specifically, which is pro-inflammatory and the main culprit for acne and rosacea.
Consuming less dairy may also improve digestion and gut health. Milk contains growth hormones and antibiotics, which can be irritating and damaging to our digestive tracts. In the same way that gluten commonly upsets digestion, dairy can have the same effect and leave us feeling uncomfortable, bloated, and cramping. People also report being much more “regular” once cutting dairy from their diet.
Dairy farming is perhaps the cruelest of all to animals. Cows are forcefully artificially inseminated only to have their new-born calf taken from them right after birth. Male calves are taken to small, cramped cages where they will be raised for beef, while female calves are sent for the same fate as their mothers: to produce milk. Cow’s milk production declines around age five or six, making it unprofitable for the farm to keep them alive. The cows are then killed, much too soon before their average expected life span of over 20 years.
Why not dairy? Not only do we not need it, but it’s also mostly harmful to everyone involved. Dairy triggers the negative symptoms of lactose intolerance, irritates the skin, is harsh on our digestive tract, and contributes to the mistreatment of animals.
Is Dairy-Free Better For You?
Well, this depends on what is meant by “better.”
Dairy-free is better in the sense that it saves our planet valuable freshwater, arable land, and air pollution.
Dairy-free is also better in that no animals are harmed or killed in the making of the product.
There’s also the argument that going dairy-free is easier on our bodies. Easier digestion, improved skin condition, and potential weight loss are some of the benefits people experience when they cut out dairy.
However, when discussing which foods are “better” for us, people are usually referring to the number of calories. AKA, how much of it they can let themselves eat at once.
Ice cream by most standards, is meant to be indulgent. Not all dairy-free ice cream is created equal. Ice cream made from coconut milk will generally be higher in calories and saturated fat due to the nature of coconut milk itself. Soymilk based ice creams will also be on the higher end for calorie counts, again due to the nature of soymilk. Before getting scared away, keep in mind that more calories usually mean creamier ice cream. Ice cream is intended to be a dessert, so treat it like one and cut yourself some slack.
The benefits don’t stop there. Eclipse’s vanilla and chocolate flavors don’t include any nuts or soy, either, which are two pretty major allergens. That means that when you’re enjoying a delicious, creamy bowl of Eclipse ice cream, you don’t have to worry about it setting off an allergic reaction.
So, is dairy-free better for you? Considering there’s nothing to lose and an abundance of benefits to be gained, we say yes, dairy-free ice cream is better for you.
Is Dairy-Free Ice Cream Any Good?
Dairy-free ice cream can be more than good. What’s the word that’s better than “great?” Whatever ‘better than great is,’ it’s that.
But of course, not all dairy-free ice cream is good, let alone great. The whole concept of creating dairy-free products yet trying to imitate dairy products is still relatively new. However, by the number of dairy-free offerings you’ll see in the grocery aisle, this wouldn’t be obvious.
Several companies are indeed hopping on the dairy-free bandwagon, but some are obviously going to be better than others, and that’s where we come in. Not every brand is going to have Michelin Star and Rising Star Chefs creating top-of-the-line plant-based ice cream, the way Eclipse Foods does.
Classics like creamy vanilla and rich chocolate can taste exactly like that, the way they should. A “good” dairy-free ice cream is ice cream that people can’t even tell is dairy-free; it should be indistinguishable. Every type of ice cream that Eclipse makes is made for people who love dairy and don’t want to sacrifice taste, texture, or functionality.
There shouldn’t be any trade-off when choosing between traditional dairy or dairy-free ice cream, and there doesn’t have to be.
Dairy-free ice cream can be incredibly delicious and help save the planet—it almost sounds too good to be true, but it is!
Dairy-free products help create a more sustainable, responsible, and humane food system, bringing us a whole new meaning to the term “guilt-free.” So, go ahead, have your ice cream and eat it too.