What is Lactose?
All foods have sugars of some type which are unique to that particular food. The body also converts food into sugar in the body to store and use as energy. Fruits have fructose, corn has corn starch and similarly, other foods have other types of sugars. In a similar way, Lactose is a type of sugar to be found in milk. Lactose is broken down in the body by an enzyme called lactase and then absorbed by the blood.
What is Lactose Intolerance?
A very tiny proportion of people have a condition known as lactose intolerance. This means that either there is a deficiency of lactase or there is incorrect absorption of lactose even though there is enough lactase enzyme. The symptoms are bloating, gas and mild diarrhea.
Myths About Lactose Intolerance
Even if someone has an incorrect absorption problem or a lactase deficiency, it does not mean that you get these symptoms. These are dependent on a few factors as follows:
- The quantity of milk you may have. If you have small quantities of milk a couple of times a day, nothing may happen.
- The kind of milk products you have. It has been found that there is no problem if you have fresh buttermilk or yogurt.
- Soft processed cheese may cause this problem so avoid having processed cheese.
- Contaminants in the milk itself. If there is a high proportion of hormones or chemicals in the milk products then it can trigger this problem.
- Age of the individual. The older you become, the lower should be the proportion of raw milk you should have. Add some water to milk and this problem disappears.
- Excess protein. Excess protein has similar symptoms as lactose intolerance. Reduce or cut out non-vegetarian food rather than milk. Milk is significantly more healthy than meats. We tend to do the reverse. Also stop protein supplements if you are having excess protein.
- Many times, a milk allergy gets mistaken to be lactose intolerance. Both of these are completely different.
Why These Myths or Misinformation?
There is a whole ‘anti-dairy’ lobby coming up which is pushing down the problem of lactose intolerance. There are three aspects to it: business, racial and lack of knowledge. The Caucasian race are prone to lactose intolerance and that too in a minority. This is also aggravated due to meat proteins. To push down this concept on other races and countries is strange. You will rarely find South Asians with these problems.
Further, the way dairy is consumed is also a problem in the West. India primarily has milk, buttermilk (chhaas) and home made yogurt or curds. The west is focused on cheese, butter and cream. No wonder then they have a problem with dairy. The other fact is that milk today is laced with hormones and chemicals which is causing a problem.
There is also a lot of push coming from the meat industry. One of the best nutritional sources (much better than meats) is milk. If we convince people to stop having milk then a lot of people will shift to meats. Further, research has shown that indigenous Indian cows give milk which is the most nutritious and healthy without any side effects. So go ahead and have milk, buttermilk (chhaas) and yogurt (curds). Just ensure you have them in moderation.