Were your ancestors raising dairy cattle and drinking milk hundreds of years ago? If so, you’re probably drinking milk quite happily today. If not, you’re likely lactose intolerant, to some degree.
Don’t worry; it’s not a disease or abnormality; about 70 percent of people in the world are lactose intolerant.
Lactose is a natural sugar found in milk and dairy products. Young mammals of all species are nourished with it. When weaning occurs, however, and milk is no longer needed, the body begins to produce smaller quantities of lactase, an enzyme necessary for complete digestion of lactose in the small intestine.
When they reach a certain age, nearly all mammals, with the exception of humans, become lactose intolerant, unable to properly digest milk and milk products. Adult cats will drink milk, if they are given it, but it will likely give them diarrhea.
Humans stay lactose persistent by continuing to drink milk their entire lives. The theory – still unproven – is that the minority trait, lactose persistence, evolved by natural selection among groups of people who turned to dairy farming and drinking of milk during periods of famine approximately 10,000 years ago.
What does lactose intolerance look like?
The symptoms of lactose intolerance usually occur 30 minutes to two hours after consuming milk or milk products.
- Gurgling in the belly
- Loose stools or diarrhea
It’s important to see your doctor and get a proper diagnosis because these symptoms are similar to those of more serious disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome.
How can I avoid lactose?
Lactose is typically found in the water-based portion of milk (along with whey and casein), but not in the fat-based portion. There is very little lactose in butter unless it has been fermented to produce cultured butter.
Traditionally made cheeses – both hard and soft-ripened – have less lactose. Aging of the cheese reduces the lactose content even more.
The commercialization of food, however, has increased vulnerability to lactose. Milk solids are added to:
- Processed meats (sausages, hot dogs, deli meats)
- Gravy stock powder
- Sliced breads
- Breakfast cereals
- Potato chips
- Prepared foods
- Barbecue sauces
Lactose-heavy ingredients include lactoserum, whey, milk solids, fat free dry milk powder and modified milk ingredients.
If avoiding high-lactose foods just isn’t enough, you can try lactase supplements such as Lactaid and Dairy Ease. Probiotics, available in some yogurts or in capsule form, may help the body digest lactose.
When you do eat foods high in lactose, you should consume other foods at the same meal to slow digestion. You can still have milk, but with some degree of moderation.