All About Dairy Intolerances and Allergies

Most of us think of dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt as healthy foods.  The dairy industry has told us for years that we have an obligation to eat dairy as it is one of the most valuable sources of calcium.  Most sources of dairy also contain a healthy dose of saturated fat, particularly cheese and our all time favorite “real” ice cream.  But did you know that dairy can make some people miserable?  Symptoms such as gas, bloating, heartburn and stomach distress are common with people who have difficulty digesting dairy.  These symptoms may arise from a deficiency in the lactase enzyme that digests the milk sugar lactose.  The treatment for this deficiency is to consume digestive enzymes containing lactase.

But, there is an even larger group of people who suffer symptoms from consuming the milk protein or casein.  These symptoms can include the same symptoms as a lactase deficiency, but may affect all body systems and not be relegated to digestive complaints.  These symptoms may include hives, eczema, sinusitis, poor concentration, headaches, migraines, diarrhea, tiredness, aching joints and muscles, racing heart, asthma, and ADD.  In fact, the symptoms can shift each time dairy is eaten.  Thus, a person may not experience the same symptoms every time and will definitely find it problematic to correlate symptoms to a food or food group.  Sometimes the symptoms do not appear immediately but appear a couple of hours or days later after ingesting the food. For example, a person who has constant migraine headaches may eat diary one day and two days later experience a migraine.

Another way that a food such as dairy can cause reactions is from an accumulation of small reactions that explode into a major reaction after eating the food over a period of days. This can set off a chain of reactivity that can cause swelling in the nervous system, joint tissues, lungs, etc. or a host of other symptoms. Furthermore, dairy sensitivity can affect each person differently.  Milk may create a headache for one person, stomach distress for another, hives in another and extreme irritability in someone else.

Foods to Eliminate

If you have been found to be sensitive to the casein in dairy, then eliminating all sources of dairy is the most effective treatment.  You will need to eliminate the following diary foods:

  • Buttermilk
  • Casein added to foods*
  • Cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • Cream
  • Ice cream
  • Kefir
  • Milk
  • Sodium caseinate (found in soy & rice cheese, packaged foods)
  • Sour cream
  • Whey
  • Yogurt

*Other names for casein: lactalbumin and lactoglobulin

Foods that also may contain casein are sausages, cake mixes, mashed potatoes, cereals, breads, McDonald’s french fries, baked goods (cookies, cakes, scones), gravies, chocolate, candies, custards, salad dressings, pancakes, sausages, crackers and cream sauces.  Look for casein, calcium caseinate, sodium caseinate, cheese culture, whey protein isolate, milk solids, milk chocolate on the label.

Butter can be eaten as it is composed of milk fat, not the protein that causes dairy sensitivity nor does it contain the milk sugar lactose that causes lactose intolerance.

 What about goat’s milk, goat’s cheese and goat’s yogurt? ***

Casein(in each of its variants) and lactose are found in the milk of every single mammal.  Most people who have an actual allergy(an IgE antibody-mediated reaction) to any of these milk components will be unable to consume any animal’s milk.  On the other hand, if a person has an intolerance(other types of immune system reactions) to casein, they may be able to tolerate some sources of casein and not others.  Thus, they may not be able to tolerate the casein found in cow’s dairy, but be able to tolerate the casein found in goat’s dairy.

***When first starting to eliminate casein from the diet, it is best to eliminate all sources of casein, including that found in goat and sheep products.

The Calcium Controversy

Yes, dairy foods contain calcium and other valuable nutrients, as well as being a source of quality protein.  If you are sensitive to cow’s dairy and need to eliminate it from your diet, take heart, there are so many other food sources of calcium to consume.  Enjoy eating the following foods:

  • Almonds
  • Black beans
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Brazil nuts
  • Dried figs
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Halibut
  • Kale, Collard greens, broccoli
  • Olives
  • Peanuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Salmon
  • Sea kelp (kombu, nori, wakame)
  • Sesame seeds
  • Shrimp
  • Spinach
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Tofu
  • Walnuts

You may also enjoy the following:

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