It can feel like everywhere you look someone is telling you to cut out dairy, gluten, sugar, fat, meat, coffee… you name it. Any variety of reasons can be given such for this. Being healthier, detoxing, and food types being responsible for every ailment under the sun.
Much of this is based on anecdotal evidence and can be disregarded in favour of choosing healthy wholesome and nutritious foods in keeping with a balanced diet. But in terms of dairy products, a significant proportion of the population do legitimately suffer from lactose intolerance.
What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose is the type of sugar found naturally in dairy products. It has a low glycemic index, which means it allows for more moderate blood sugar levels and energy that lasts longer.
In general dairy products are an important source of vitamins and minerals and a good source of protein and so cutting them out of your diet is not advisable unless you have a good reason.
One such reason is lactose intolerance, where your body either doesn’t produce enough (or any) lactase – the enzyme that breaks down lactose – to allow for the absorption of this sugar.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance
The most common symptoms include gastrointestinal discomfort or cramping pain, gas, diarrhoea, and nausea. Symptoms can come on quite soon after consuming dairy products.
If your body is still producing some lactase you might be able to tolerate small amounts of dairy just fine, but experience symptoms if you have larger amounts at once, or more in a day than you are used to.
For example, you might be able to have a few cups of coffee with a splash of milk and have no problem, but if you eat ice cream you get an upset stomach. You can also find that you experience temporary lactose intolerance for a few days after having a stomach bug, but this generally returns to normal after some time.
Am I lactose intolerant?
While it is always best to work with your general practitioner or dietitian to confirm a diagnosis, if you suspect that you are lactose intolerant one step that you can take yourself is to keep a food diary.
Record foods and drinks as well as the amounts and time of day you consumed them, and then also record any symptoms you experience and the times you experience them.
This can help you and your healthcare team pinpoint whether it is likely that lactose is the culprit, or whether you may have another intolerance. If lactose looks likely, your doctor can order a test to confirm your suspicions.
What do I do if I am lactose intolerant
Initially, you may wish to cut out all lactose containing dairy products and replace them with non-dairy alternatives such as soy milk or yoghurt, or rice, almond, or oat milks. You can also trial lactose-free cows milk where the lactose has already been broken down for you.
After symptoms have settled down you may wish to trial small amounts of dairy and see which amounts you are able to tolerate without causing symptoms. You can then top up your remaining intake with non-dairy alternatives.
You want to aim for 2-3 dairy serves a day. One serve is a glass of milk, a tub of yoghurt, cup of custard, 2 slices of cheese etc. Try and choose calcium-fortified versions of soy or nut milk, and choose brands with lower sugar content when possible.
Lactose intolerance and weight loss
Hard cheeses generally contain very little lactose but are higher in calories so if you are aiming to lose weight as well as manage your lactose intolerance just keep this in mind.
You might also like to choose the low-fat versions of your milk alternatives. While plant-based milk will not contain saturated fat unlike cows or goats milk, you will still need to monitor your overall daily fat intake in line with your balanced eating plan.
Remember that non- dairy desserts such as soy ice cream or puddings can still be quite huge in sugar and calories. Make sure that you read the nutritional labels to check.
If you were considering a stay at one of our retreats but thinking your nutritional restrictions would make this too difficult, give us a call and chat with us about your needs. We are happy to provide options for a range of nutritional requirement such as vegetarian, gluten-free, and lactose-free.