Health & Lifestyle

The difference between dairy intolerance and lactose intolerance

The difference between dairy intolerance and lactose intolerance

You often hear the term ‘lactose-free’ bandied around; from adverts showing lactose intolerant hedgehogs in supermarkets to rugged men shouting liberty, equality, lacto-free in an attempt to show us that we can have the best of both worlds.

But rarely do we hear advertisers differentiating between an intolerance to lactose and an intolerance to dairy. Before I took a food intolerance test, it’s fair to say I never really thought about it but in hindsight, I probably would have assumed that dairy intolerance = lactose intolerance.

And it’s no surprise; just look at the search results you get when you Google ‘dairy intolerance’!

Dairy vs Lactose Intolerance search results

Now, however, I know very differently. I recently discovered that I have a dairy intolerance which means that my body reacts negatively to the protein in dairy. This was tested by giving a blood sample and testing the IgG reaction to specific foods. A dairy intolerance means that you have to cut out ALL animal milks including sheep and goats milk as well as the obvious cow’s milk because the proteins are very similar. If you’re wondering what this really means, take a look at this earlier post.

Lactose intolerance on the other hand is when people are unable to break down the naturally occurring sugar (lactose) present in milk. I was surprised to discover during my research that we all actually started out lactose intolerant and it was only a few thousand years ago when Northern Europeans developed a mutation that means our digestive systems are able to produce lactase. Lactase is an enzyme that lives in the gut allowing us to break down lactose into its constituent components; glucose and galactose (both sugars).

This is how we’re now able to produce lactose-free milk; by mimicking the way our body has changed to digest lactose. Manufacturers can add small amounts of the enzyme lactase into milk which does the job of breaking down the lactose for us, meaning those who are unable to produce lactase can still drink milk without the unwanted side effects.

Unfortunately though, for those of you like me who experience an intolerance to regular cow’s milk, we should also avoid lactose free milk. This is because our reaction is to the milk protein, not the milk sugar.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the range of dairy free products on offer and the way that restaurants are so accommodating to my food intolerance. Ocado in particular has a great dairy free range which you can browse in order to see what alternatives are available, take a look here.


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