Lactose Intolerance: What it is and How to live With it
My name is Hannah, I’m 19 years old and a student at the University of Leeds. When I was 17, I discovered I was lactose intolerant like my dad. Lactose intolerance is one of the many dietary issues that have become more common nowadays, mirrored by an increased awareness of what we eat.
What is Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, which is a sugar found in milk and milk derived products and is often used as a non-reactive substance in many types of medicine.
In order to digest lactose, the body uses an enzyme called lactase to break down the lactose into two sugars – glucose and galactose – which are then absorbed into the bloodstream.
As someone with lactose intolerance, I, like many others, have the inability to produce the enzyme lactase so when I eat dairy products I can experience symptoms of bloating, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting. This is caused because the lactose stays in the digestive system and it is fermented by bacteria, much like the fermenting process of yeast to make beer!
It is important to know about the common symptoms associated with lactose intolerance, particularly as they can manifest at any stage in life and therefore you could be experiencing these symptoms unaware of the cause. The level to which you react to lactose in your system will vary in each person. A friend of mine is also lactose intolerant, but is able to eat certain cheeses such as parmesan and goats’ cheese, but gets extremely ill from milk and yoghurts. This is because certain cheeses like these, and also Greek yoghurt, contain probiotics that help to digest the lactose in these foods. Being extremely intolerant however, I am unable to do this, and therefore avoid all dairy products.
How Did I Find Out I Was Lactose Intolerant?
At around age 17 I began to feel increasingly more ill after I would eat, normally with a stomach ache in my lower abdomen. At first I dismissed it really but it gradually got worse and because my dad had discovered a few years prior that he was lactose intolerant, it was suggested that I get tested for it also, to be absolutely sure. Had this not been the case, I think you have to keep a food diary so a GP can see if there are any trigger foods.
Diagnosing Lactose Intolerance
This process involved fasting for 12 hours prior to the appointment and then having to drink a pint of solution containing lactose, which would then follow with nine separate blood tests over the course of 2 hours or so, to measure the activity of the lactase enzyme in my digestive system. Within half an hour I started to feel unwell and this only got worse over the two hour period so I wasn’t at all surprised when the results confirmed lactose intolerance!
Removing Lactose From Your Everyday Diet:
In a strange way I see being lactose intolerant as a blessing in disguise. Since discovering it, I’ve become much more interested in what food I eat and especially determined to ensure my everyday diet is healthy. I’m forced to avoid processed foods which is no bad thing and find it easier to make food rather than cheat! It has forced me to take notice of all the ingredients in food and become aware of the detrimental effects that dairy products can have on our body. You may be surprised to learn that the human digestive system is not designed to naturally digest lactose and that is why many nutritionists and health experts will urge you to cut out large portions of dairy from your diet if you are looking to become healthier.
Everyday Foods Containing Lactose
Lactose is found in milk products, including cow’s milk, goat’s milk and sheep’s milk so anything containing these are on the ‘out of bounds’ list for me. That includes:
- Ice cream
These aren’t really a surprise but how about:
- Some meats – often supermarket chickens have milk added, processed hams
- Some medications, such as soluble Anadin Extra
- Crisps (and not just the obvious such as cheese & onion but some makes of salt & vinegar and other flavours!)
- Breakfast cereals
- Gravies and sauces – carefully check the ingredients
- Salad dressings
Read food labels carefully!
Any foods that contain the following need to be avoided:
- Hydrolysed casein
- Hydrolysed whey
- Milk solids
- Milk powder
Living With Lactose Intolerance
Coconut oil has seriously changed my life in terms of how I can substitute dairy products in cooking. I didn’t fully realise how much milk and butter were used in cooking and coconut oil has honestly made my life so much easier as a young adult who is learning not only how to cook but also how to eliminate a pretty integral food group from her diet. At the bottom of this article, I’ve included recipes and ways in which coconut oil can be incorporated into your diet to replace dairy products.
I know it seems like a daunting thought to have to cut out arguably the tastiest foods from your diet when discovering you’re lactose intolerant but in all honesty, I have really not found it to be much of a challenge (and this is coming from a former chocolate fanatic). As someone who was about to make the transition to university- and having to cook all my meals for myself –discovering I am lactose intolerant really helped me to remain healthy and not succumb to the lifestyle of ready meals for the next few years of my life.
If anything, I would have to say cutting out dairy products from my diet is most difficult when I eat out, particularly so when other people have to cook for me, only because of the separate plates of food that have to be set aside for me and I feel like it’s an inconvenience. I didn’t previously realise the amount of foods that contained lactose in them, which makes grabbing a sandwich from Tesco much more difficult than it once was.
All is Not Doomed Though!
There are lactase tablets that I can take when I’m eating out in case I unknowingly eat something containing lactose. These will break down the lactose for me and aid digestion. You shouldn’t ‘live’ on these but they’re great to take occasionally. Supermarkets are also good these days offering a variety of ‘lactose free’ alternatives such as Lactofree milk, cheese and obviously there are a selection of rice milks, almond milk, soya milks that I use in recipes as great substitutes. Anything that requires butter, I simply use my Lucy Bee!
The following foods are all lactose free – all it takes is a bit of time to read labels…….
A Point of Note for the Girls…
This one may seem like a strange concept but one that is extremely useful for all you females with lactose intolerance. Lactose is actually an inactive ingredient used in contraceptive pills nowadays. Apparently the last remaining lactose-free birth control pill, Femulen, has recently been discontinued. An alternative and appropriate substitute to the contraceptive pill for those with lactose intolerance is the Depo-Provera injection – a form of contraception that is recommended as a lactose-free option.Just thought you’d like to know!
A Day in the Life (Food Edition):
This is just a brief insight into a daily diet of mine that shows how to substitute lactose with other products in your diet.
Hot water with lemon juice as I wake up– a good detoxifying drink to flush out remaining food from your system.
Breakfast- porridge with almond milk (no lactose and much healthier) and manuka honey with raspberries on top.
Smoothie to drink:
1 cup frozen berries
1 cup strawberries
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp flaxseeds
1 cup almond milk
1 tsp Lucy Bee Coconut Oil
Usually an omelette cooked in Lucy Bee coconut oil – this is preferable to olive oil anyway and not just because I’m lactose intolerant. I add in spinach and peppers and whatever other vegetables I can find to add some extra nutrition!
A homemade juice:
1 apple cut up
1 cup of spinach
1 cup of kale
(made with the Phillips juice master)
Dinner- dairy free risotto with courgettes, peas, mushrooms and green beans.
Fry the courgettes and mushrooms in Lucy Bee.
Add one chicken or vegetable stock pot with boiling water.
Pour the risotto rice in with the cooking vegetables and slowly add some of the stock to it without drowning the rice.
Wait for the rice to absorb the water and stock and then add some more.
Fry some chicken in Lucy Bee coconut oil and add spices or flavourings.
Add the chicken and peas to the pot.
Steam the green beans and then add with the rest.
I don’t really eat cakes too much but mum makes a wicked chocolate mousse cake substituting the butter with coconut oil and the milk chocolate for Green & Blacks dark chocolate, served with mango sorbet…..amazing!
Generally, I’ve learnt to adapt recipes to make them lactose free and still be tasty!
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