Have you or someone in your family given up milk and milk products?
Is stomach upset when drinking milk potentially leading to a failure to get all the nutrition you need for your health?
Have you given up cheese, ice cream, and other dairy ‘just in case’?
There are some things we need to know so that intolerance to lactose found in dairy won’t lead to poor nutrition and health consequences.
Signs of Lactose Intolerance
Cow’s milk contains a sugar called lactose. Dairy products derived from cow’s milk also contain lactose unless they are processed so that the lactose is broken down.
Our bodies need an enzyme called lactase to break down the sugar lactose. A person who is intolerant to lactose can experience pain, gas, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea when dairy products are eaten.
When we don’t have enough lactase naturally in our GI tracts, we can feel symptoms of distress because the sugar can’t be digested (broken down) as efficiently.
Eating Cow’s Milk Despite Intolerance
There are still ways to eat cow’s milk and dairy products without the GI distress so that you can get the nutritional benefits.
You can take a lactase containing pill whenever you ingest cow’s milk that will help your body digest lactose in milk.
You can eat one of the many forms of lactose free milk, cheese, ice cream, and yogurt that don’t contain lactose (it has already been broken down) which might upset your system.
Some people tolerate all dairy except for liquid cow’s milk so can get dairy benefits without liquid milk.
Dairy products that are naturally lactose free such as aged cheese, dairy with active cultures and acidophilus milk have compounds that have broken down the lactose and are not problematic for people with an intolerance.
Some people can tolerate a small amount of lactose-containing dairy without symptoms or can slowly build up GI tolerance over time. Some experts believe that small amounts of lactose containing dairy taken at different times or with high fat meals will help your GI tract better tolerate lactose.
Some people have true milk allergies, which means they have a physical reaction to cow’s milk and all products containing milk. This is not something that can be overcome and symptoms will occur with any milk or milk product intake.
Consequences of Limiting Dairy Foods
Because dairy foods are great sources of nutrients including calcium, vitamin D, protein, potassium, magnesium, niacin, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and phosphorus, avoiding all dairy can impact your health and well-being.
Unfortunately, it has been reported that almost 22% of us have drastically reduced our dairy intake. When you take dairy foods off your plate, it can be very harmful to bone health and lead to fractures and osteoporosis.
Calcium is found in dairy products and required to maintain strong bones and teeth. There are other ways to get adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D but it is important to pay attention to other food sources of calcium in the diet in order to meet these needs.
It won’t come easily.
Calcium can be found in:
- Broccoli, kale, turnip greens, Bok choy (Chinese cabbage)
- Salmon, sardines
- Tofu and other soy products
- White beans, black-eyed peas
- Dried figs
- Blackstrap molasses
- Cereals or orange juice fortified with calcium
- Rice or almond milk, almonds
Milk and dairy are good sources of protein and restricting them can leave a gap unless you balance your diet with additional protein sources. Failure to consume adequate protein can lead to muscle loss, difficulty with wound healing, decreased ability to rebuild cells and tissue, and decreased red blood cell production.
Dairy products contribute probiotics to your bowels. Without a source of probiotics, you may lose balance in your gut bacteria leading to constipation and — even worse – immune compromise. A healthy gut is thought to prevent infection.
Milk and Dairy You Can Eat Again!
There are substitutes that you can try if you fear lactose intolerance is upsetting your GI system so that you won’t miss essential nutrition.
Here are a few different options you might want to check out:
A2 Milk is a natural cow’s milk produced from specific cows that make milk with A2 protein instead of A1 protein. Regular cow’s milk contains both A1 and A2 beta-casein protein.
Research has shown that people who drink A2 milk can avoid gastrointestinal distress that the A1/A2 milk causes. A1 milk protein has shown to produce gut inflammation and GI distress often thought to be lactose intolerance in some people. Many who switch to A2 milk find that they can tolerate this milk better than traditional cow’s milk.
Naturally Lactose Free Aged Cheese
Naturally lactose free aged cheese such as cheddar, gouda, parmesan, Colby jack, and swiss can be eaten without stomach upset. It still contains nutrients such as calcium and protein that are important for your health.
Lactose is found in the whey portion of cow’s milk which is separated from the curd which goes on to become cheese. Read your cheese’s nutrition fact label for sugar. If the sugar says 0 grams, then the it doesn’t contain lactose (which is a natural sugar).
Oat milk is a plant-based beverage made from steel-cut oats that are soaked in water, pureed and then strained to produce a smooth liquid. Oat milk contains fiber from the oats, 4 grams of protein per cup versus 8 grams from cow’s milk and monounsaturated fat (good fats) but is higher is sugar and calories because oat is a carbohydrate.
As a plant-based product compared to cow’s milk, it contains no cholesterol, saturated fat or lactose.
Other Plant-Based Milks
Other non-mammalian, plant-based milks including nut, soy, coconut, hemp or rice also contain no lactose. They usually have to be fortified with the nutrients present in cow’s milk to be comparable including calcium, B vitamins and Vitamin A.
You should be aware that they don’t all contain similar amounts of protein found in cow’s milk.
Goat milk is becoming more popular as are the products made from goat’s milk including cheese. It has a particular flavor, some call it strong, but some people who experience lactose intolerance from cow’s milk can tolerate goat milk. However, it does contain lactose.
Camel milk? Would you be interested in drinking camel milk if you knew that it is higher in Vitamin C, iron, unsaturated fats, and B vitamins than cow’s milk? It is lower in cholesterol too while higher in protein. Because it doesn’t contain beta-lactoglobin, some with lactose intolerance can drink camel milk.
Camel milk is consumed daily by the people of UAE, Somalia and Mongolia due to its nutritional benefits but has a reported slight salty taste and more watery than cow’s milk and is best enjoyed in milkshakes or flavored.
Your Food Choices
Your personal food choices should meet your nutritional needs, taste preferences and even your environmental beliefs.
Knowing all the facts so that you can make an informed choice for your health about which type of milk to drink, fill the gaps a lactose free diet leaves or how to add calcium rich foods to your diet will keep you on the road to health.