What is the difference between lactose intolerance and a dairy allergy?
Lactose intolerance is an inability to digest the sugars that are found in milk. Dairy allergies are an immune system response where the body reacts to the proteins found in milk. Dairy products are made from the milk of mammals, most commonly cow, sheep, and goat's milk. Cow’s milk is primarily made of water (88%). The remaining nutrients are composed of approximately 5% carbohydrates (lactose), 3% protein (whey and casein), 3% fat, and 0.7% minerals. If you are sensitive to the carbohydrates you are lactose intolerant. If you are sensitive to the protein you have a dairy allergy.
Lactose is the sugar found naturally in animal milk. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include digestive upset such as bloating and diarrhea. The severity of lactose intolerance varies from person to person. The most common lactose intolerance test is completing a challenge - if you consume dairy products and experience cramps, bloating or diarrhea, you may be lactose intolerant. Your body does not produce enough lactase enzymes necessary to fully digest the lactose sugars. The ability to digest lactose often varies by your ethnic background. People of Asian, African and Hispanic descent generally produce less lactase enzymes than Europeans. Of note, lactose intolerance may be an early symptom of intestinal damage such as Celiac disease.
Dairy allergies are more serious than lactose intolerance and should be discussed with your doctor. Allergies can include mild to moderate symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, nausea, and rashes, and can also cause severe symptoms of anaphylaxis. Your body is having an immune response to the whey and casein proteins.
What to eat?
Can you eat dairy if you have a dairy allergy? Answer: NO
Fortunately, new products are being created all the time. Dairy-free milk alternatives such as coconut, rice, almond and soy do not contain any animal proteins and have emerged to meet the needs of dairy allergic consumers.
Can you eat dairy if you are lactose intolerant? Answer: Yes, but you need to eat limited amounts or eat products that are made lactose-free.
The quality of lactose-free products is most often indistinguishable from conventional milk products - all of the flavour and texture are maintained. Removing the lactose can be done in several ways - removing the sugars through a natural water process, aging the dairy products so the natural bacteria consume the sugars, or through the addition of enzymes.