Cutting out dairy can make you lactose-intolerant

But it is possible to reintroduce dairy to your life

Rachel Hosie
Friday 13 April 2018 11:31 BST

We live in a time when it seems like every other person is cutting something out of their diet.

From gluten and wheat to dairy and sugar, it’s increasingly common to have dietary requirements nowadays - and increasingly difficult to throw a dinner party as a result.

And while people with genuine intolerances have no choice, those of us who cut out foods purely for lifestyle reasons could be doing ourselves more harm than good.

One of the most problematic in this vein, is dairy.

Many people avoid dairy because they believe it makes their skin worse and is fattening.

However if you’re not actually intolerant to dairy-products, going the whole hog (or cow) and cutting all dairy out of your diet could actually make you lactose-intolerant.

It’s true that a large proportion of the world’s population are “lactose maldigesters,” which means they struggle to digest lactose.

This is because their bodies don’t produce much lactase, which is the enzyme that breaks down lactose.

Young children (under the age of five), generally have high levels of intestinal lactase, but as we get older, our levels decrease.

However, the more dairy you consume, the more lactase your gut bacteria produces.

“The bacteria in our colon need to be fed in order to survive,” Dennis Savaiano, PhD, Meredith Professor of Nutrition Policy at Purdue University, told Well + Good. “So whatever you feed them, those bacteria are going to prosper.

“Individuals who are used to eating lactose in their diet have more lactase enzyme [than people don’t eat lactose-containing foods]—we think six to eight times more—and are more efficient at digesting it so they don’t get symptoms.”

While there are plenty of dairy alternatives on offer these days - Innocent is the latest to enter the market with a new range of almond, oat and hazelnut ‘milks’ - is there anything better than thick, creamy Greek yoghurt or salty halloumi?

Don’t deny yourself these foods if you don’t have to - life’s too short, and dairy is too delicious.

But if you give up dairy and then try and reintroduce it to your diet, you may struggle to digest it having possibly built up an intolerance and thus have some negative symptoms.

That doesn’t mean you can never have a latte or scoop of ice cream again though - you can actually retrain your body to break down lactose efficiently.

The trick is to start with small amounts of lactose and gradually build up the amount you’re consuming. Savaiano also recommends pairing high-lactose foods with other foods so as not to overload your digestive system.

It’s also important to note that not all dairy products contain the same amount of lactose - yoghurt and hard cheese are actually very low in lactose, whereas milk is higher.

So don’t go dairy-free unless you need to, and if you’ve already done so and wish you hadn’t, just reintroduce dairy products to your diet gradually.

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