A: Alisa – This is one of our most frequently asked questions on Go Dairy Free. In general, all mammal milks (sheep, goat, camel, etc.) and their related products (cheese, sour cream, etc.) are classified as dairy. In fact, if you look up goat milk and sheep milk online, you will probably come across the American Dairy Goat Association and the Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative.
So, why all of the confusion? The milks from different mammals have slightly different compositions, which is why some people may be allergic to cow’s milk but able to tolerate goat’s milk. Human milk is obviously the least allergenic milk for humans, as it is “designed” specifically for our bodies. The closer a milk is in composition to human milk, the lower the probability of allergenicity.
I elaborate on this in Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. Here is an excerpt from the section in that book on goat milk:
“Goat milk is slightly closer in composition to human milk than cow milk is, with proteins that may be easier to digest. It is estimated that 20 to 40% of milk allergic individuals do not react to goat milk. However, milk allergic individuals should obtain an allergy test prior to trialing, as most people who are allergic to cow milk have similar reactions to goat milk. Plus, a rare few are in fact more allergic to [the casein or whey in] goat milk.
The lactose levels in goat milk versus cow milk are very similar (4.1% and 4.7% respectively), so lactose intolerant individuals might experience little to no relief from making the switch.”
Nonetheless, there are some additional benefits and pitfalls when looking at goat milk versus cow milk products. I discuss these in Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook as well as the upsides and downsides of sheep milk, camel milk, mare milk, and even donkey milk. You will likely be quite surprised by some of the information on each, as they are not identical by any means.
Whether or not these foods are “okay” for you to eat, is completely up to you and the reasons you are excluding dairy from your diet. Chapter 1 (entitled “What is Dairy?”) in Go Dairy Free should help you to make a confident decision on this issue. It is extensive and goes into quite a bit more detail on this topic.
Of course, if you are cutting out dairy in an effort to follow the vegan diet (a diet free of animal products), then goat and sheep milk products would still be a no-go.
Alisa Fleming is the founder of GoDairyFree.org and author of Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. In addition to her own dairy-free lifestyle, Alisa has experience in catering to the needs of various special diets, including gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, vegan, and multiple food allergies.