Do you suspect you could suffer from lactose intolerance?
A while ago Peter and I went to dinner at a friends place. I always enjoy these gatherings with like-minded women and their partners so I was really looking forward to it. Not long before going I started to suffer from gas and bloatedness which ended up completely ruining the night as I sat in absolute pain and trying very hard not to embarrass myself with any self-willed flatulence.
I used to suffer from this sort of upset on a regular basis. I would felt miserable for a couple of days until it sorted itself out. When I changed to lactose-free milk for my tea and cut out all dairy besides a little Greek yoghurt on my muesli it virtually disappeared. For those who like a bit of yoghurt, Greek contains less lactose due to the fact that most of the whey has been strained out of it.
Having a food intolerance is not fun. It can cause abdominal pain, discomfort, and nausea. It also causes embarrassing symptoms like flatulence and diarrhoea. Other symptoms linked to food intolerances include muscle or joint pain, headaches, exhaustion, and even skin symptoms like rashes and eczema and acne.
It can sometimes be difficult to identify that there it is possibly something in your diet that is causing these symptoms.
Dairy is just one of those foods that many people seem to be intolerant of.
The main components of milk that people react to are lactose, casein, and whey.
Milk sugar (lactose) intolerance
It’s estimated that up to 75% of adults are lactose intolerant. Lactose is the carbohydrate “milk sugar” naturally found in most dairy products.
Lactose intolerance is now so common that lactose-free milk is readily available in your local grocery store.
Lactose-free products are treated with the enzyme “lactase” which breaks the lactose down before you ingest it. It’s this lactase enzyme that is lacking in most people who are lactose intolerant.
The lactase enzyme is naturally released from your intestine as one of your digestive enzymes. It breaks down the lactose sugar in the gut. When there isn’t enough lactase, lactose is not broken down the way it should.
Undigested lactose becomes food for the resident gut microbes. As they ferment the lactose, they create gases that cause bloating, flatulence, pain, and sometimes diarrhoea.
Other products containing lactose
Lactose is also present in fermented dairy such as cheese, yoghurt and butter. Completely removing lactose from your diet is not easy as it is added in some form to many compound foods like baked goods, soups, and sauces. Also, check the label on medications and supplements as lactose is a common ingredient in them.
What can you do?
If you have symptoms of lactose intolerance try removing as many lactose-containing foods from your diet as you can and give it a good 7 to 10 days to see how you feel. If the problems persist it may be necessary to get serious and remove all lactose-containing foods and give it some time to see how you feel.
After trying everything the problems continue with your gut it could be that there is something else causing the issues. There are many foods that can upset the gut so it is about removing as many of these foods as you can then reintroducing them one at a time and waiting a few days after each introduction to see if there are any changes.
Milk protein (casein & whey) allergy
Milk is a known, and common, food allergen. In Australia and many other countries around the world, it is considered a “priority allergen” and must be declared on food labels.
Remember Little Miss Muffet – she sat on her tuffet (whatever the heck that is!) eating her curds and whey. These are the two main proteins in milk. The solid bits are the curds or casein and the liquid is the dissolved whey.
Unlike lactose intolerance, casein and whey can cause an actual immune response that can cause inflammation. It’s an allergy. We don’t know how many people have these milk allergies, but most estimates put it far below that of lactose intolerance.
These allergenic milk proteins can be found in many other products. Some protein powders are made with whey so be watchful if you suspect you are allergic.
Some of the symptoms of milk protein allergy differ from that of lactose intolerance; things like nasal congestion and mucus (phlegm) are more common here. And casein has been linked with belly fat.
Interestingly, people who have gluten intolerance are often allergic to milk proteins like whey and casein as well. These can go hand-in-hand.
Like lactose intolerance, if you’re allergic to casein and whey keep an eye on labels so you can avoid them.
If you find you are often gassy, bloated, or have diarrhoea after eating dairy, you may have a lactose intolerance.
Perhaps you suffer from a stuffy nose and mucus, then you may be allergic to casein and/or whey.
While dairy seems like a food that is difficult to cut from your diet, it is not an essential nutrient. All the nutrients in dairy are available in other foods.
If you find you are experiencing any symptoms, try removing dairy from your diet. You may find improved digestion and fewer gut issues or improved nasal congestion.
There are many products available on the market that can work in place of dairy. Try almond or coconut milk or a mixture of both. Coconut yoghurt is delicious and fairly easy to make yourself if you are not keen to pay the prices at the supermarket. You can use goats milk as an alternative as it is easier to tolerate and gentler on the gut. If you find you can tolerate it then goats milk feta could be a nice addition to your diet.
If you decide to (or have already) removed dairy from your diet, let me know your experience in the comments below.