Milk’s good for kids, right? But, for some children, a small glass of milk, is enough to bring on a nasty stomach ache, uncomfortable bloating, wind and diarrhea. But don’t panic, your kids (or you) don’t need milk.
These are the signs of lactose intolerance, a common digestive problem where the body is unable to process lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products.
My daughter was diagnosed with Leaky Gut Syndrome after a huge dose of antibiotics when she was tiny had depleted her digestive system of all the ‘good stuff’. We were advised by a nutritionist after testing to cut out diary, and although she is fine now and eats yoghurt and very occasional ice cream, we never really went back to drinking cows milk.
There are many reasons why you may want to cut cows milk down, or out, of your diet, intolerance being one of them. So here’s a few tips I’ve learnt along the way.
Intolerance is not the same as a food allergy. If you’re allergic to something, even a tiny amount can trigger a severe reaction. Most people with lactose intolerance can consume small amounts of lactose without experiencing ill effects.
What is lactose intolerance?
Normally, an enzyme called lactase breaks lactose down into simpler sugars, which can be easily absorbed into the bloodstream. With lactose intolerance, the body doesn’t produce enough lactase. So lactose lingers in the digestive system, where it’s fermented by bacteria, causing the uncomfortable symptoms I mentioned.
It’s not just kids that are diagnosed with this problem – the condition can creep up on you in later life, if levels of lactose in your body decline.
If you suspect that you or your child is lactose intolerant, don’t self-diagnose: get to the doctors! A simple breath or blood test can diagnose you – and then you can start taking the right action to reduce, or cut out, foods and drinks containing lactose.
Managing lactose intolerance
It can be difficult at first to know how much lactose you can eat or drink without your body stating quite emphatically “that’s enough!” But, over time, it’s possible to work out what you can consume without suffering. People with severe symptoms may come to the conclusion that their diet needs to be completely lactose-free.
Alternatives to milk
Cutting out cows’ milk can be a daunting prospect, especially from a baby or child’s diet – as they have a real need for the nutrients found in dairy foods to help them develop properly. In place of cow’s milk, many people reach for soy milk, but soy really isn’t quite the wondrous health food it was once thought to be.
First off, a high proportion of soybean crops are genetically modified and many are sprayed with chemical herbicides. Secondly, all soybeans, even those grown organically, contain a compound that can mimic the hormone estrogen. Some scientists believe this could be harmful to children’s development, and may increase the risk of infertility and cancer. The idea of soy being healthy isn’t completely unfounded — traditionally, soy was fermented, which destroyed its ‘anti-nutrients’, so the nutritional benefits of soy could be enjoyed. But, in Western hands, things have changed – and the soy milk and soy infant formula on our supermarket shelves contains unfermented soy.
For detailed information on the risks of soy, as well as how to eat fermented soy safely, click here.
More genuinely natural and nutritious, in my opinion, are almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk and hemp milk.
Here’s the lowdown on their pros and cons:
Almond milk is delicious (though I guess that’s personal taste). It’s loaded with manganese, selenium and Vitamin E and it’s a good source of magnesium, unsaturated fat, protein, flavonoids and potassium. While it’s safe to give kids almond milk (assuming they’re not allergic to nuts of course…), it’s nutritionally different from cow’s milk, breast milk or formula. In particular, it’s lower in fat and protein, so young children may need to compensate from other foods. Buy from health food stores or supermarkets.
Coconut milk is gluten free, and its fat content is considered a ‘good fat’, easily metabolised by the body and quickly turned into energy rather than being stored as fat. Coconut milk is rich in lauric acid, a substance also found in human milk, which researchers have shown have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. For more information on the benefits of coconut oil and products, click here. And it’s not hard to find! Many of the supermarkets sell it, or visit your health food store, or buy online.
Oat milk is cholesterol and lactose free and also contains high levels of antioxidant vitamin E. It is usually tolerated by people with multiple allergies, and is also a good source of phytochemicals; naturally occurring chemicals in plants that help fight diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke. The main argument against oat milk is that it doesn’t have the calcium and protein content of cow’s milk. And, since it’s derived from a cereal, it’s also no good for people with a gluten allergy.
A good milk alternative for anyone with soya and nut allergies, hemp milk is cholesterol free, low in saturated fats and rich in healthy omega fatty acids and protein. It tastes creamier and nuttier than soya milk, and also tends to be a bit thicker than other plant-based milks. On the downside, it lacks calcium and isn’t so widely available.
But What About Calcium?
If cows’ milk is a no-no – and milk alternatives don’t always deliver in the calcium department – there are other great sources of calcium that lactose intolerant people can include in their diets to ensure they’re not missing out. Sesame seeds and almonds are high in calcium, as are salmon and sardines – and all leafy green veggies (the darker green the better) are packed with the stuff. A bit of stewed rhubarb will give you a nice calcium boost too.
Lactose intolerance might seem like a huge deal, especially if it’s your child who is suffering. But remember it’s not life threatening, just upsetting until you or your child readjusts your diet in a way that suits you. Once you find alternatives that you’re comfortable with, the symptoms will vanish and it’ll be happy days!
If you have any more questions about making a dairy-free diet work for you, just holler!