Starting to suspect you’re having an unrequited relationship with dairy? Maybe your beloved morning latte doesn’t love you back, those late-night fro-yo runs make you nauseous, or you’re having stomach cramps after eating cheese.
You could be one of the millions of Americans who might want to go dairy-free. Dairy-free diets are becoming more popular — for some it’s part of a bigger lifestyle choice to go raw, Paleo, or even vegan. But for many of us, cutting out dairy is a reluctant step we take because of lactose intolerance or even a cow’s milk allergy.
My own dairy-free journey started after a bad bout of food poisoning (let’s just say I still can’t look at an oyster). It took many doctor visits to discover that the crippling stomach cramps I was experiencing months after "Oystergate" were due to lactose intolerance.
I’ve been developing dairy-free recipes ever since. The stomach cramps are gone, my energy levels have bounced back, and I’ve even lost a few pounds without trying (without those late-night cheese sessions).
If you suspect you could be lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy, here are the six signs you need to look out for — and what to do about them:
1. You get stomach cramps for no obvious reason.
Lactose intolerance happens when there’s not enough of the enzyme lactase in your digestive system to break down the lactose (a natural sugar found in milk) in that ice cream/glass of milk/bar of chocolate you’ve just eaten. The cramps can come on soon after or take a while to develop, depending on how much lactose you’ve just consumed.
Lactose intolerance can develop at any time in life or after a period of illness, so even if you used to drink milkshakes by the gallon, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a problem with dairy now.
2. You take frequent bathroom breaks.
Lactose intolerance isn’t a sexy condition. Some of the most common symptoms are diarrhea and flatulence.
If this is happening to you, try keeping a food and symptoms journal for a few weeks. If you suspect there’s a correlation between those frequent dashes to the bathroom and your diet, talk to your doctor.
3. You feel sick — but you’re not hungover, pregnant, or on a roller coaster.
Nausea is another common symptom of lactose intolerance, which again can vary in strength depending on your personal tolerance levels and what you’ve just consumed (a glass of milk will have much more lactose in it than a small piece of parmesan, for example).
4. You have eczema.
Eczema has numerous, complex causes, but one of them is a cow’s milk allergy. This is an immune system response to one or more of the proteins in cow’s milk (most commonly casein).
5. You’re wheezing like crazy.
Other signs of a cow’s milk protein allergy include a rash or hives, wheezing and coughing, swollen lips, vomiting and stomach pain. If this happens to you, seek immediate medical help.
In rare cases, cow’s milk protein allergy can cause anaphylaxis, which needs immediate emergency treatment.
6. You have eczema (plus other symptoms) but NOT wheezing.
Another type of dairy allergy is non-IgE-mediated cow’s milk protein allergy. It can be trickier to diagnose than cow’s milk protein allergy as there’s no hives or wheezing, and the symptoms — eczema, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps — can take longer to develop (often several hours after consuming dairy).
Milk allergies are more common in babies and young children than in adults, but luckily most children grow out of it by the age of 5. If you suspect that you or your child may have milk allergy symptoms, always consult your doctor first.
So, you might be sensitive to dairy. Now what?
- 29 Tips To Get Rid Of Dairy (Without Turning To Soy!)
- I Used To Be Addicted To Cheese. Here's How I Gave Up Dairy And Transformed My Health
- Thinking Of Going Dairy-Free? Here Are My Go-To Alternatives
Check out my cookbook Dairy-Free Delicious for more dairy-free tips.
Katy Salter was working for a food magazine when she was diagnosed as lactose intolerant and had to change the way she cooked and ate. She writes and blogs from her office in London.