Don’t be baffled (or scared) about dairy intolerance – about 65% of the human population experience some levels, rising to around 90% in people of East Asian descent. Knowing the facts about this manageable digestive condition can help you live life to the max, discomfort-free.
- Medically diagnosed as ‘lactose intolerance’, sensitivity to dairy stems from an ability to digest lactose, a type of sugar predominately found in milk and other dairy products such as butter, cheese and yoghurt.
- The condition is most commonly triggered by a lack of lactase, an enzyme hosted in the gut that breaks down the sugar in lactose. Unprocessed, the sugar ferments in the stomach and triggers uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms.
- Dairy intolerance symptoms usually develop between 30 minutes and two hours after consuming food or drink that contains lactose. They can include wind, diarrhoea, bloating, stomach cramps and nausea.
- Lactose intolerance should not be confused with an allergy to cow’s milk. The latter is a more chronic immune condition that generally triggers very similar symptoms within the digestive tract, but more immediately and severely. Cow’s milk allergy can also cause skin disorders such as rashes and eczema, respiratory conditions such as asthma, and inflammation that can activate headaches and joint pain.
- For some, dairy intolerance can be negotiated with lactase enzyme supplements. They can help you digest lactose normally, without having to adapt your diet at all. However, seek medical advice on whether it could be an appropriate route for you first.
- The severity of lactose intolerance varies greatly between sufferers, and does not necessarily spell the end of a dairy diet. Some are able to drink a small glass of milk without experiencing any symptoms, while others may not even be able to have milk in their tea or coffee. It’s a very individual condition, and necessitates fine-tuning your food and drink intake according to how your body reacts.
- If you have to adapt your diet, it is not as complicated as you may fear. Leading retailers (as well as specialist shops) stock a great variety of dairy alternatives that make doing that supermarket sweep less of a chore. Lactose-free milk, yoghurt and cottage cheeses are not difficult to source. Neither are milk alternatives such as soy, rice or almond, which don’t differ greatly in taste and consistency from the real thing.
- Be aware that a dairy-free or dairy-sparse diet can substantially reduce levels of essential protein, calcium and vitamin D. Therefore, it’s important to boost any such deficiencies with regular portions of leafy greens, broccoli and beans, as well as fatty fish and eggs. Vitamin D supplements may also be a good option too, but should only be taken with professional advice.
- If you suspect that you are lactose intolerant, consult your GP for a diagnosis and guidance before embarking on any form of dairy-free diet.
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