How to tell if you're Lactose Intolerant or have a Dairy Allergy
The Worst Day of my Life
About two years ago now, maybe a little bit longer, I discovered something about myself. Something horrible. Something I absolutely hate and detest. Something I can't change about myself no matter how much I try or how much I want it to be different.
I am lactose intolerant.
How is this just now coming up? How did I get this way? What went wrong? And was it really lactose intolerance? Why did a person who loved cheese and ice cream so much suddenly become incapable of eating it without drastic consequences?
Every 20-25 years, your body changes
I heard it, I just didn't think it could be so accurate. It wasn't that long after my 25th birthday that I started getting serious symptoms.
Let me rephrase that. I had always wondered about myself and my ability to deal with dairy products, even at a young age, because there were some weird little... I'll call them quirks ... I had regarding anything made out of cow's milk. I could open a bottle of milk fresh from the store and smell it, and it would always smell rotten. As a child, my father and his side of the family would have to force me to drink milk because I hated the taste - and they did force me, for many years. I wasn't allowed to leave my father's table after dinner without drinking my milk. My friends made fun of me for it because my dad would make them do it, too. I constantly felt bloated, and gassy, but since I always had cheese or something dairy ("because dairy is good for you, it's one of the five food groups") with every meal, I didn't put it together, really. I craved dairy.
But I never really had an "attack" of sorts. Not until a little while after I turned 25. A few friends, my mother and I, all went out to eat at a local fast-food place that is known for their delicious, cheesey, fatty burgers, and their thick, amazing milkshakes.
The meal was fantastic. The burger was saturated in cheesey goodness. The milkshake was a Reece's Peanut Butter Cup shake. Heaven in a glass. And about five times more than I should've drank, but I enjoyed it so much I got every last bit of it out of the bottom of the glass.
And a half an hour later, I was in hell.
Symptoms of a Milk Allergy
Same As Lactose Intolerance:
- Abdominal discomfort, bloating, cramps
- Gas (flatulence)
Specific to Milk Allergy:
- Hives or Skin Rash
- Runny Nose
Symptoms of Lactose Intolarance
- Gas (Flatulence)
- Abdominal discomfort (mild pain)
- Constipation (and if you don't think you can have both diarrhea and constipation at the same time, then you've never had a good lactose intolerance attack)
Slightly less common but still annoying:
- Abdominal pain, noises, bloating, cramping
But how do you tell the difference?
Obviously, with either one, you can have some of the same symptoms, so it can be difficult to tell which is which.
Regardless, you need to stop eating any dairy products (see list below) for several days (sometimes it takes me a week to get everything out of my system and stop having issues). Then, start adding things back in. If you have a problem when you add something back in, you're at least lactose intolerant. Some people just get similar symptoms from other sources (it happens, I mean those are pretty general digestive symptoms there), so it's a first step to make sure that it's the dairy products and not something else.
Still having problems? Here's how to tell which it is, after laying off the dairy again: there is such a thing as lactose-free dairy milk and cheese. Switch to that. The most prevalent product in many grocery stores today is Lactaid - real dairy milk without lactose. If you're still experiencing issues, consult your doctor about having a milk allergy, and see if you and your doctor can figure out a good nutritional plan for you. Your doctor can also give you lactose-free milk and test you right there in the office as well to make sure that's it.
Good to Know...
"The severity of the symptoms of lactose intolerance varies greatly from person to person. One reason for this variability is that people have different amounts of lactose in their diet; the more lactose in the diet, the more likely and severe the symptoms. Another reason for the variability is that people have differing severities of lactase deficiency, that is, they may have mild, moderate, or severe reduction in the amounts of lactase in their intestines. Thus, small amounts of lactose will cause major symptoms in severely lactase deficient people but only mild or no symptoms in mildly lactase deficient people. Finally, people may have different responses to the same amount of lactose reaching the colon. Whereas some may have mild or no symptoms, others may have moderate symptoms. The reason for this is not clear but may relate to differences in their intestinal bacteria."
I'm Lactose Intolerant. My Life Is Over.
Especially if you're a cheese-lover like I was, it can be especially difficult to deal with suddenly becoming Lactose Intolerant. It took me a lot of very painful, bloated, trial and error, and I still sometimes get it wrong.
Still wondering how I got it? There are some theories that suggest if you have a lactose intolerant relative, you're more likely to get it. I'm not sure of that, though, but I do know that for a few years - not his entire life, my dad experienced some form of lactose intolerance - he couldn't drink any dairy or eat any ice cream or cheese, and it just randomly cropped up in his 20's or 30's, and then just as randomly disappeared.
Your body goes through cycles, remember? Sometimes new allergies can crop up, and old ones can disappear. Why? Your body's systems work differently in each "cycle" or stage. Lactose intolerance is because your body doesn't produce enough LactASE, the enzyme that breaks down lactose inside your stomach and intestines
It can also be caused (according to medicinenet.com) a disease such as Celiac's that causes damage to your intestinal lining, thus keeping you from producing enough lactase.
But there are many products out there these days that make it at least a little bit easier. Finding the one you like best is going to be the hardest part.
A Few Options:
Milk for coffee or cereal:
- Silk brand Soy Milk (comes in all kinds of flavors, and in light varieties for those watching their figures) - requires a little time to get used to if you're not used to soy.
- Almond Milk
- Coconut Milk
Cheeses are a little more tricky, and I will admit that I have yet to figure them out entirely. But, here's my theory. If you're already used to soy MILK, go for soy cheese. It's more expensive and harder to find, though, so I don't really bother with it - that, and, there are varying degrees of intolerance within being considered "lactose intolerant", and I can stand a piece of cheese here or there. Lactose-free cheese...not a great idea unless you're cooking it into something. I don't know what happens with it, but it honestly just does NOT taste good plain, and definitely not uncooked, so really...try to use it in your scrambled eggs or something, don't put it on a sandwich, you'll be sorry. And I have back-up for that claim, there's another woman at work who agrees on the lactose-free cheese thing.
This was by far the most difficult for me to give up, because I can eat a little bit of cheese, but I can't take much ice cream at all. There are, once you can get past the first bites (because they never taste quite like the ice cream you crave during the first bite, especially when you're used to regular milk ice cream), almond and coconut ice creams that can actually be really amazingly good. I was as surprised as you probably will be. The problem is that they're so expensive. However - and this I only just recently found out from a friend - BREYERS now has a lactose-free line of ice creams! YES! Cow's milk without the lactose, so, according to her, it tastes just the same as regular ice cream. The only problem is that here in my area, it only comes in one flavor - vanilla. So if your favorite is rocky road, you might be out of luck. That's the next thing on my "to try" list.
Yep! There's a pill for that. And it actually works. For the most part. Let me explain - again, it depends on your level of lactase-deficiency. Lactaid pills are a lactase enzyme supplement, they supply you with more of that great thing that helps you break down lactose, that stuff that makes you wish you were dead when you get too much. In my friend from work's case - they do the trick every single time, one pill down the hatch with your first bite of dairy (get the fast-acting, seriously, why would you get the ones you have to wait an hour for to kick in?) and you're good to go for the rest of the meal. In MY case, however, it works fine on my stomach. Not so much once things hit my intestines. So I don't have the immediate symptoms, no nausea, belching, weird tastes in the mouth (yes, I notice when I get too much dairy, I start getting this weird feeling on the back of my tongue like my saliva is turning to glue). But two or three hours down the line, it can get a little embarrassing if my boyfriend's over. So I try to just avoid dairy, but it's not as easy as it sounds. As you'll see on the Stuff to Avoid list below, it's not nearly as simple as not drinking milk or eating cheese.
Stuff to Avoid
Yes, this list is going to sound ridiculous, excessive, and absolutely impossible to stay away from everything. Again, just...try things out. Yes, you'll hit snaffu's from time to time (like my wonderful "let's go have pizza, it won't be that bad" moment with my boyfriend last week), but once you figure out what your body can tolerate, you'll be good to go.
Just for fun, I'll put a star next to things I can actually tolerate a little of, and if you like, leave what you know you can take down in the comments box, so everyone can see and learn what's GENERALLY tolerable to most people and what's not!
- Cheese * (has to be whole-milk cheese for me)
- Butter *
- Whey and Whey Products (You know those protein shakes you like? Check the label!)
- Cottage Cheese
- Yogurt (believe it or not, most lactose-intolerants can take some amount of yogurt. I am not one of those)
- Anything "Au Gratin"
- Some Cakes and Cake Mixes * (I don't know if I can tolerate these or if I just love sweets so much I absolutely don't care)
- Chocolates * (to some degree. Not so much milk chocolates, but I always liked dark chocolate better anyway)
- Coffee Creamers (there are tons of non-dairy out there too, though)
- Mashed Potatoes
- Malted Milk (no more whoppers, boo!)
- Some Margarines
- Any White Sauce you can put on food *
- Some Salad Dressings * (Ranch is my favorite)
- Lunch Meat * (I didn't believe this one, 'cause I've never had a problem with lunchmeat at all, but apparently some people do because some meats contain some amount of dairy. Except, of course, for Kosher meats.)
- Some Bread and Bread products *
- Some processed breakfast cereals *