Dairy – There are few foods as controversial as dairy. Foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese are items on our food pyramid, the one we get drilled into us as a kid. They’re smack in the middle there, telling us that they’re primary function is to provide us with our daily recommended calcium. I mean, it’s an entire food group, right? And there are definitely some people who say you need it.
But, there are others who say to avoid it, from a health perspective. There is no disputing that some people react to it. And by “react,” I mean in the form of either intolerances or allergies.
So, let’s dive in and find out why we may choose to ditch our daily dairy…..
Dairy Intolerance – Lactose, Casein, and Whey
Food intolerances can manifest themselves in various ways. Perhaps you’ve been experiencing abdominal pain, bloating, discomfort, or nausea. Or perhaps more embarrassing symptoms such as excessive wind and diarrhea. These are just some of the symptoms linked to food intolerances. There are many others, including muscle or joint pain, headaches, exhaustion, and even skin symptoms like rashes and eczema.
Dairy is just one of those culprit foods that many people may have an intolerance to. So, in order to understand why, let’s run through the main components of milk that people may have reactions to: 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 pretty common and it’s easy enough to buy lactose-free milk in the supermarket. Products marked “lactose-free”are treated with the enzyme “lactase” that breaks the lactose down before you ingest it. It’s this lactase enzyme that’s lacking in most people who are lactoseintolerant.
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 someone doesn’t have enough lactase, the lactose doesn’t get broken down the way it should. This results in undigested lactose being food for the resident gut microbes. As they ferment the lactose, they create gases that cause bloating, flatulence, pain, and sometimes diarrhea.
Lactose is in dairy but is in lower amounts in fermented dairy (e.g. cheese & yogurt) and butter. Steering clear of lactose isn’t that easy as it is added to other foods like baked goods, soups, and sauces. And if you’re taking any medications or supplements, check to see if it’s in there, as lactose is a common ingredient in them too.
Milk Protein (casein & whey) Allergy
Milk is a known, and common, food allergen. In Australia, it’s considered a “priority allergen” and must be declared on food labels.
So, what are the allergens in milk? You’ve heard of “curds and whey?” Well, these are the two main proteins in milk. The solid bits are the curds (made of casein), and the liquid is the dissolved whey.
Unlike lactose intolerance, casein and whey can cause an actual immune response. It’s an allergy. And this immune response can cause inflammation, amongst other symptoms. While we’re not sure how many people have these milk allergies, it’s far less common than those who are lactose intolerant.
Like lactose, these allergenic milk proteins can be found in other products too. They’re not just in dairy but are often in protein powders as well (Have you heard of “whey” protein powders?).
Some of the symptoms of milk protein allergy differ from that of lactose intolerance; things like nasal congestion (blocked nose) and mucus (phlegm) are more common. Casein is also linked with persistent 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. That’s why, as people become more aware of the foods their bodies aren’t happy with, they’ve created greater demand and we’ve seen a massive increase in supermarkets, coffee shops and restaurants offering up a selection of gluten free, dairy free food.
Like lactose intolerance, if you’re allergic to casein and whey, it’s a great time to practice that label reading, so keep an eye out so you can avoid these, or even just to be more aware of what products they may be hiding in.
If you get a bit of wind, bloated, or diarrhea after eating dairy, you may have a lactose intolerance. If you often get a stuffy nose and mucus, or skin issues then you may be allergic to casein and/or whey.
While dairy may be an entire food group, it’s not an essential nutrient. All the nutrients in dairy are available in other foods, so there’s no need to feel deprived if you find dairy doesn’t agree with you. If you experience these symptoms, try removing dairy from your diet. You may find improved digestion and fewer gut issues. Or you may find improved nasal congestion, clearer skin or even less belly fat.
If you’re unsure whether dairy is causing you an issue, this is something we can explore through working together one on one. It’s not something you need to navigate alone, and often to be successful we need someone by our side. Contact me for a free, no-obligation Discovery Call so you can see how you can best nourish your body. I’d love to help!