It appears that I am lactose intolerant.
Lactose intolerance is when your body can’t produce enough lactase, which is an enzyme that breaks down lactose into simpler, more absorbable sugars. Lactose is found in cows milk, and therefore cream, butter, ice cream, yoghurt and anything else containing milk.
Lactose intolerance is not an allergy; this means most sufferers can consume small amounts of products containing lactose without problems, and even when they do consume large amounts it usually isn’t a medical emergency like with nuts. But it can lead to some unpleasant symptoms.
I’ve always had problems with consuming large quantities of milk, and when I was a toddler I could only have goats milk, as regular cows milk didn’t agree with me. As I grew older it didn’t seem to be too much of a problem, but over the past few years, the symptoms of lactose intolerance have become more noticeable. I’ve frequently been quite bloated after meals, and unsavoury things would make their way out of my rear end at regular intervals.
And then we went to Paris for our honeymoon. Whilst we were there, my symptoms were much milder, and I eventually deduced why. On a morning, rather than having cereal with milk, I was having croissants instead.
A few weeks after we returned (and after having seen my symptoms return), I switched to LactoFree milk. This is regular cows milk which has been treated to remove the lactose, but keep everything else. I also cut out yoghurts from my lunch (although only after buying a large multipack). Since then, I haven’t had any of the earlier problems.
This should be a happy ending, but unfortunately it isn’t. Because so many things have milk or dairy products in them. I am now beginning to understand how hard it is to be a vegan (even though I still eat meat). The LactoFree milk is okay – it tastes like regular cows milk and doesn’t cost much more, although it is imported from Denmark. LactoFree cheese is, however, disappointing – rubbery, and largely flavourless, reminding me of the ‘cheese’ I used to get as part of my school dinners in the early 1990s. There are other products in the range but these aren’t stocked in my local small town supermarket, sadly.
Some sufferers of lactose intolerance can manage to have yoghurt – this is because yoghurt is a fermented dairy product, and so the lactose is already partly broken down. Sadly, as mentioned before, this isn’t the case with me, and so I now have to eat soya-based equivalents. Similarly, some people can have goat or sheep milk based products, others can’t.
On the odd occasion when I drink coffee, I have to ask for soya milk. I don’t particularly like soya milk as I find it very sweet when compared to cows milk, but it’s better than feeling awful later on. Sadly Starbucks charge an extra 35p for soya milk in their drinks; I’m not sure about Costa Coffee or Caffè Nero and whether they charge extra too.
If you’re reading this and think that you too may have lactose intolerance, then by all means try cutting out diary products from your diet, but please also make an appointment to see your GP to discuss it. Don’t self-diagnose; your GP may refer you to have a blood or breath test to confirm. Mine didn’t, but this was because I’d already cut back on dairy products and we agreed that it probably wasn’t necessary. However, some of the symptoms of lactose intolerance appear to be the same as some more serious diseases such as bowel cancer, so it’s really important that you see your GP just in case. It also means that, if you are lactose intolerant, then it’s on your medical record. Some drugs contain small amounts of lactose in them, for example. And if your symptoms are serious, then your GP may need to refer you to a dietician who can devise a suitable diet for you to eat.
There isn’t a cure for lactose intolerance. As well as avoiding dairy, it is possible to take lactase substitutes, which essentially act like lactase to break down lactose in your stomach. You add them to your food before eating. They’re available from some health food shops, and on prescription in some circumstances.