Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Lactose Intolerance: When Milk Doesn't Do A Body Good

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I grew up surrounded on all sides by lactose intolerant people. It really didn't pose a problem for me until my brother decided to test my will by eating a bowl of cereal before a road trip, proceeding to put the windows on child-lock and letting one rip. There was no escaping it. Death by suffocation.

Naturally, I was conditioned at an early age to hate dairy products, the source of ALL my problems in and out of the car.

Now, unlike me, I know there are some of you out there who LOVE dairy products up and down but sadly cannot partake. You've been labeled 'lactose intolerant' (which sounds a bit more classy than plain old 'gassy'), and you're not alone. The numbers are unclear, but it's estimated that 60-75% of the world's population is lactose intolerant. That's a lot of uncomfortable people.

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So how does it happen? Why are so many people unable to process dairy? Science lesson time! Dairy contains a double sugar called lactose, made up of glucose and galactose. When lactose reaches your intestinal tract, it's too big to be absorbed into the body so the enzyme lactase comes along and splits the lactose into two single sugars. They're absorbed easily and all is well in the world.

When you were born, you produced plenty of the lactase enzyme. After all, you were nursing and needed to process all that breast milk. But at some point (usually after weaning), your body stopped producing lactase altogether, or at least didn't make much of it, and that's when the trouble started. It's not known why specifically, but certain nationalities make more of the enzyme than others.

So now, you're left with little to no lactase to break down the double sugar, which means it sits in your intestinal tract and is broken down by bacteria. Bacteria digestion results in gas and causes small water molecules to make their way into the intestinal tract. It's no wonder that some people feel gassy, bloated and generally uncomfortable after eating dairy.

If this is you, all is not lost! There are other ways to replace dairy in your diet...

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1) TRY OTHER TYPES OF MILK - First up, there's the obvious, Lactaid Brand milk. You're still getting the real milk. The only difference is that it's pretreated with the lactase enzyme to split the lactose before you drink it. You can also try soy, rice, hemp, cashew or oat milk. I tend to favor oat milk because the taste is very similar to cow's milk. It also lasts much longer than regular milk.

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2) REACH FOR THE HARD OR AGED CHEESES - Cheese is my favorite food, hands down. Who can give up cheese? The good news is YOU DON'T HAVE TO! Aged cheeses like parmesan, Roquefort and even some goat cheeses contain far less lactose than soft cheeses, such as queso fresco, mozzarella or cream cheese. The longer the cheese is allowed to age, the longer the 'friendly bacteria' in cheese have to digest the lactose. Start slow with hard cheeses and see how your body does. You might be pleasantly surprised!

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3) INSTEAD OF ICE CREAM, TRY YOGURT OR SHERBERT - Sherbert contains half as much lactose as ice cream, making it a great alternative for those of you who can handle 'a little' lactose, but for the rest of you, yogurt is your safest bet. Like aged cheese, yogurt is FULL of 'friendly bacteria' that break down the lactose. Try adding your own fruit to yogurt for a delicious snack, and remember to steer clear of yogurt that's packed with sugar. A little label reading should solve that problem!

Now for the most important nutritional concern when it comes to lactose intolerance... CALCIUM. The dairy industry would like you to think that you HAVE to consume dairy to get adequate calcium, but I am here to tell you that's not true whatsoever. Eating green leafy vegetables will do the job, and better! Make sure your diet is full of broccoli, kale, collards, mustard greens, swiss chard and spinach. Salmon and tuna are actually great sources of calcium as well, and you can even get calcium from certain nuts! The older you get, the more calcium you need so make sure to pack your plate with these things and you'll be just fine!

At the end of the day, if you are lactose intolerant, love ice cream and absolutely refuse to give it up, then do us all a favor and take the windows off child-lock. Thank you... that is all.

1 comment:

  1. This lactose intolerance is preventing us from enjoying the food we love to eat specially the dairy products.