What’s the Deal with Dairy?

By Farah Hillou

The “Got Milk?” campaign, initially launched in the U.S. and then gaining momentum worldwide strongly emphasized the importance of having milk every day.
However, more and more people nowadays are resorting to alternatives due to health reasons, environmental causes, or personal preferences. A growing number of children and adults report experiencing a range of symptoms after consuming anything dairy-related.
Three reasons why some individuals may not do physically well with dairy are:

  • Cow’s Milk Allergy: This involves an inability to break down the proteins in milk. It is often experienced by infants, though some can outgrow the allergy later in life. The immune system (an IgE response) is triggered, leading to symptoms that develop almost immediately and may range from mild such as vomiting, itching, and wheezing, to severe such as anaphylaxis. Individual’s allergic to cow’s milk protein are also very likely to react to goat and sheep milk. Avoidance of all dairy foods is necessary when an allergy is present. 
  • Milk/Dairy Sensitivity: This also involves triggering the immune system however, symptoms may develop hours or a few days later. One of the proteins in cow’s milk, A1 beta-casein, releases an inflammatory compound called “casomorphin” upon digestion. This may trigger symptoms including fatigue, headaches, sinus congestion, low mood, skin issues, digestive problems, allergy-like symptoms and more. Most of the cow’s milk we drink contain A1 casein, whereas sheep, goat and camel milk contain A2 which does not appear to have the same effect as A1 casein. The most ideal way to determine whether someone has a sensitivity to dairy is to eliminate all foods from this group for at least 2 months.
  • Milk/Dairy Intolerance: Unlike an allergy or a sensitivity, a milk intolerance does not trigger the immune system but instead involves an inability to break down lactose, the sugar in milk, due to lack of the enzyme lactase. Symptoms are centered in the digestive system, for instance gas, bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Some individuals may be able to handle small amounts of dairy while others cannot. Moreover, the lactose content of dairy foods differs. High lactose sources include milk, ice-cream and soft cheese, while hard cheeses like cheddar, Swiss and parmesan, as well as butter are low in lactose. With respect to yogurt, the bacteria present can help break down the lactose which is why some people feel fine when having yogurt but not milk. Consuming digestive enzymes with meals can help break down the lactose and provide relief for some people. A lactose intolerance can easily be diagnosed through a breath test conducted by a gastroenterologist.

Worried about not getting enough calcium if avoiding dairy? Some great dietary sources include salmon, sardines, kale, broccoli, bok choy, soy beans/tofu, white beans, almonds, and sesame seeds.

As for dairy substitutes, there are plenty of delicious alternatives to chose from. From nut-based milks like almond and cashew, to coconut cooking cream, to vegan cheese and dairy-free ice-cream’s, going dairy-free has never been easier!

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