By Amy Rankin; Photography Wei Tang/Freepik
Lactose-intolerant? Allergic to dairy? Know the difference? Here’s how to tell…
Whether you’re vegan, allergic to dairy or it just doesn’t suit you, you’re in luck as SA shelves are now packed with a variety of substitutes. Many of them are lower in kilojoules than cow’s milk – and offer other nutrients. “These products are often fortified, so nutrients are added to them, along with sugar and fat to make them more palatable,” says dietician Dr Celeste Naudé.
“Select a milk alternative that’s as nutrient-dense [as cow’s milk], without loads of added sugar and fat. It should at least have calcium added – other vitamins and minerals in reasonable amounts will be beneficial.”
But the question is, are you actually allergic?
Allergy vs intolerance
“These are two completely different conditions,” says Naudé. “Lactose intolerance is a food intolerance where certain individuals have reduced activity of or lack the digestive enzyme called lactase. This enzyme breaks down lactose, which is the basic sugar found in dairy products. If the lactose is not digested it ends up in the large intestine where it ferments, producing symptoms like nausea, flatulence, pain, bloating and diarrhoea.”
True allergic reactions happen quite soon after eating and involve the immune system. “An allergy is essentially when a normally harmless substance is perceived by the body as a threat and the threat is then attacked by the body’s immunological defences.” Your immune system releases antibodies, which triggers unpleasant responses, like rashes, itchy nose and eyes, wheezing, coughing, sneezing, nausea, itchy lips and mouth, bloating, cramping, vomiting and diarrhoea. “Allergens are most often protein molecules in food,” explains Naudé.
So you’ve been eating one way your whole life and all of a sudden you can’t have that blue-cheese sauce without almost-instant cramps and numerous trips to the bathroom. What gives? According to Naudé, “The cause of an adult-onset food allergy is not yet clearly understood and there are many possibilities, which are being explored by continued research. At this stage, there isn’t one standout cause that applies to everyone consistently.”
Some research shows that an attack on the immune system, like a viral illness, might trigger a reaction, leading to a new attack on a previously tolerated food protein. “Most food allergies start in childhood, but the prevalence of adult-onset allergies is on the rise,” says Jae Braun, principal dietician at the Discovery Store in Cape Town.
“Some studies have hinted that our modern cleanliness and hygiene practices and Westernised diet, high in meat, sugar and fat, may play a role by disturbing the healthy microbes or bacteria that live in our guts, increasing our susceptibility to food allergies,” says Braun. “Food additives, general air pollution and even regular use of antacids are also thought to play a role in adult-onset food allergies,” she adds.
Looking for more? Here’s how to make your own almond milk.