What Is Lactose?
All kinds of food categories have sugars of some type which are unique to that particular food type. The other fact is that the body also converts all food into sugar to either use as energy or to store it as energy. To give an example, fruits have fructose in them, corn has corn starch and similarly, other foods have other types of sugars. Sucrose and glucose are other such sugars. Just like these foods, milk also has a type of sugar compound called, Lactose. This lactose needs to be broken down in the body to be absorbed and used. This task is done by an enzyme called Lactase. After Lactose is broken down, it is absorbed by the blood and transported where required.
What is Lactose Intolerance?
We have the ability to process lactose. This ability varies with age and metabolism. So most of us can actually process this and use it. However, a very tiny proportion of people have a condition known as lactose intolerance. This means that either there is a deficiency of the lactase enzyme or there is incorrect absorption of lactose even though there is enough lactase. The main symptoms which could be seen are bloating, gas and mild diarrhea. These are also symptoms of excess protein consumption or even some bacterial infection.
Myths About Lactose Intolerance
What has been found is that even if someone has an incorrect lactose absorption problem or a lactase deficiency, it does not mean that you necessarily get these symptoms. There are many other dependent factors due to which one can develop this intolerance:
- The amount of milk or dairy products you have in a day. If you are having lots of it, then a problem could occur. However, if you go easy on the cream and cheese and just have small quantities of milk a couple of times a day, nothing may happen.
- The form in which you have the milk or milk products matters a lot. It has been found that you can have buttermilk (chhaas) or fresh yogurt or skimmed milk and there is no problem.
- One of the main culprits is soft processed cheese. The variety you find in sandwiches and pizzas. So processed cheese is avoidable. However home made cottage cheese in small quantities does not cause an issue.
- All the milk and milk products these days contain contaminants. Contaminants are not just chemicals but also hormones given to livestock to increase production. Even if the fodder has pesticides or fertilizers, it finds its way in the milk and then our body, when we have it. These contaminants also trigger intolerance.
- The age of the individual matters. With increasing age the lower should be the proportion of plain or raw milk. If you just add some water to the milk before having, then this problem disappears.
- Another problem is excess protein. Having more protein than the body needs has similar symptoms as lactose intolerance. Just reduce or cut out non-vegetarian food rather than milk. This is because milk is significantly more healthy than meats. However, we tend to do the reverse. We do not reduce protein from food and then blame the milk. Also stop or reduce protein supplements if you are having excess protein.
- There is also something known as a milk allergy. This is completely different from lactose intolerance.
Myths And Disinformation On Milk
There is suddenly a whole ‘anti-dairy’ lobby coming up which is pushing down the problem of lactose intolerance on the World. This is happening due to a few reasons:
- There are various business interests and lobbies at work, especially the meat and processed meat industries. Milk is the only great vegetarian substitute for meats and all the essential nutrients. If you convince people to not have milk, consumption of meat goes up.
- There is a genetic aspect to it as well. Members of the caucasian race are more prone to lactose intolerance and that too in small numbers. However, as discussed, this is also aggravated due to meat proteins.
- Since most of the research has been done in the west, the same concepts are peddled to other races. To push down this concept on other races and countries, therefore, is strange. You will rarely find South Asians with lactose intolerance or milk allergies.
- Further, the way dairy is primarily consumed in the West is also an issue. India or South Asia primarily has milk, buttermilk (chhaas) and home made yogurt or curds. The west is mainly focused on processed cheese, butter and cream. The latter does cause digestion problems.
There is another interesting aspect found. Milk given by indigenous Indian cows is lesser in quantity but is the most nutritious and healthy without any side effects. So do not worry at all. Go ahead and have some milk (watered down a bit if you will), buttermilk (chaas) and home made dahi or yogurt (curds).