Dairy Intolerance (Lactose, Casein & Whey)
Do you have a dairy intolerance? An allergy? What’s the difference? How can you even tell?
Dairy Intolerance (Lactose, Casein, and Whey)
Having a food intolerance is not fun. It can cause abdominal pain, discomfort, and nausea. It also causes embarrassing symptoms like flatulence (oh, excuse me!) and diarrhea. Other symptoms linked to food intolerances include muscle or joint pain, headaches, exhaustion, and even skin symptoms like rashes and eczema.
Dairy is just one of those foods that not many people can tolerant. In fact, around 60% of the world’s population is somewhat lactose intolerant. Let’s talk about the main components of milk that people react to: lactose, casein, and whey.
Milk sugar (lactose) intolerance
It is 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 so common you can buy lactose-free milk in your regular grocery store. Lactose-free products are treated with the enzyme “lactase” that breaks the lactose down before you ingest it. This lactase enzyme is lacking in most people who are lactose intolerant.
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. Undigested lactose ends up 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. In addition, if you're taking any medications or supplements, check to see if it's in there too, as lactose is a common ingredient in them.
If you have symptoms of lactose intolerance, keep an eye on food, medication, and supplement labels.
Milk protein (casein & whey) allergy
Milk is a known, and common, food allergen. In the United States, it is 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. In fact, we don’t know how many people have these milk allergies, but most estimates put it far below that of lactose intolerance.
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 and mucus (phlegm) are more common here. Casein seems to be linked with 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. Like lactose intolerance, if you're allergic to casein and whey keep an eye on labels so you can avoid these.
Dairy can also be problematic if the quality is compromised or if you decide to overindulge (like everything, moderation is key).
Conflicting health claims have left most of us confused about the benefits of dairy. Who should be trusted for sound advice about dairy – the government? the food industry? our local farmer? We can bits + pieces from each of these sources but the answer is you! You are the most trustworthy source. You know how your body reacts to having dairy – that’s the only answer you need.
What are the benefits of dairy of consumption? The minerals, calcium, potassium + magnesium, are found in dairy foods and they play an important role in helping maintain blood pressure at a healthy level.
We all know that calcium is an important building block of our bones and high-quality dairy can be an excellent source. Bone mass, blooding clotting, muscle contraction, and nerve impulse transmission are other bodily functions that profit from adequate calcium intake. It also helps maintain a healthy pH level, which can be influenced by meat, excessive sugars, and processed foods. These foods contribute to acidity in the body, throwing off your body’s natural pH. Calcium may also lessen symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), such as dizziness and mood swings.
Dairy advocates have long pushed the anti-obesity benefits of low-fat dairy products as part of an overall healthy lifestyle. Deficient levels of calcium may cause the parathyroid hormone to
slow the breakdown of fat. Conjugated linoleic acid and branched chain amino acids, which are found in dairy, are thought to contribute to slowing the breakdown of fat.
The benefits seem to be centered on calcium. Where else can you get adequate amounts of calcium? Seeds, beans + lentils, almonds, dark, leafy greens, rhubarb, amaranth, edamame + tofu, and figs.
What are the concerns of dairy of consumption? High consumption of full-fat dairy, particularly among teens, may increase the risk of moderate to severe acne (it’s the first place I react, if I get dosed with dairy). As we discussed above, digestive distress and respiratory issues (i.e. asthma and too much mucous) are significant concerns. There are also studies that indicate an increased risk of developing prostate cancer among men.
The massive concern I have is contamination from the massive amounts of “stuff” that gets in the milk supply. Synthetic hormones like recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) are often given to cows to increase their dairy production. And ya know what? These hormones make it into our milk supply. The same goes for antibiotics given to animals who in turn develop infections due to milk production manipulation. I shy away from letting the littles eat dairy unless I know its high quality, organic, and free of these chemicals.
So, in conclusion….
If you get gassy, bloated, or diarrhea after eating dairy, you may have a lactose intolerance. If you often get a stuffy nose and mucus, then you may be allergic to casein and/or whey.
While dairy may be an entire food group, it is not an essential nutrient. All the nutrients in dairy are available in other foods. If you experience these symptoms, you can try removing dairy from your diet. You may find improved digestion and fewer gut issues. Or you may find improved nasal congestion, or even less belly fat.
If you decide to (or have already) removed dairy from your diet, let me know your experience in the comments below.
Recipe (Dairy-free): Chocolate Ice "Cream"
3 bananas, sliced and frozen
2 tsp. cacao powder, unsweetened
1 tbsp. almond butter
Place frozen bananas in food processor and blend until smooth (a few minutes). You may have to stop a few times to scrape the sides.
Add cacao powder and almond butter and blend until mixed well.
Serve (maybe two people, maybe not…) & enjoy!
Tip: You can make this in advance and freeze in an airtight container.
Leave a comment below and share your favorite fermented food recipe. Also, take a photo to share on Instagram! Tag me @naturewellnessbeauty so I can see, and give me a follow if you don’t already! Or join our private Facebook Group here >>> I’d love to stay connected!
Thank you for being here on this journey with me. I'm truly honored you're here.
I’m a small town Oregonian, a scientist, an integrative nutrition health coach, and a crunchy mom. Passionate about natural living, long distance cycling, cooking with my littles, kick boxing, cashew milk ice cream + margaritas (skinny, on the rocks - salt, please!).
My passion is helping people conquer their wellness goals and create a more natural, sustainable lifestyle. My love of nature and natural remedies have led me to dive deep into essential oils and creating simple, all natural household and personal care products on my own. My blog started on a simple premise of sharing my journey to a more natural lifestyle, including the science behind many natural remedies, DIY recipes, tips, and ways to save money using plant-based alternatives. Now, as I emerge from my health coach training program, I have married my passion to my purpose, combining all aspects of health and wellness with a holistic approach to create a platform that delivers online tools that bring you into alignment with where you want to be.
I don’t promote diets, fitness, or weight loss as a goal - I encourage my clients to seek out what works for their individual body chemistry + spirit. We will look at how all parts of your life affect your health as a whole.
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I am not a doctor. I am not here to diagnose, treat, or cure any of your illnesses. The content I share is for informational purposes only.
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