Dairy free diets are growing in popularity. Are they another fad or are they the real deal? Is lactose intolerance even a real thing?
Yes, it is!
Lactose intolerance is when someone produces too little of the enzyme lactase. Lactase is a digestive enzyme that breaks down the milk sugar lactose in dairy products such as milk, cheese, yoghurt and ice cream. This food intolerance is very common in some populations such as the Asian population for example.
Lactose intolerance usually results in digestive issues such as bloating, cramping, excess gas and diarrhoea. However, anecdotal evidence has also suggested that intolerance can also manifest itself in other ways such as acne breakouts, skin disorders, overproduction of mucous and headaches.
There are different degrees of lactose intolerance with sufferers being able to tolerate varying amounts. Most people can tolerate a small amount of dairy, especially hard cheeses, as these are very low in lactose. There’s now also many lactose free products available. This is where commonly consumed dairy foods such a milk, yoghurt and desserts have the lactase enzyme added into them, meaning the lactose is already broken down. It’s also possible to buy the lactase enzyme in a supplement form in pharmacies or health food shops.
Is it the lactose? Or is it something else?
Lactose is a common intolerance but there are lots of ways that people who are sensitive to it can still include it in their diet. However, some people still get issues even when trying lactose free food products, using the lactase enzyme and with foods that are very low in lactose such as fermented cheeses. It’s possible that for these people lactose isn’t the issue, something else in dairy is.
Casein is a slow release protein found in dairy products. Some people have trouble breaking down casein, which manifests itself into similar symptoms as lactose intolerance, making it difficult to differentiate between the two intolerances. Unfortunately, there aren’t any casein free products available in supermarkets or digestive enzymes to break it down. In this case, sufferers will most likely have to avoid most dairy.