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Can Your Diet Make You Lactose Intolerant?

lactose intolerant

Photo credit: iStockPhoto

For the better part of at least 15 months, I completely avoided anything with dairy, soy, or gluten. For a little while, that list included eggs too. I wasn’t trying to keep up with the latest and greatest ridiculous fad diet. No, my son was allergic to all those pesky ingredients and I was breastfeeding. Translation: I couldn’t touch those foods because as my son’s source of food, it would be just as if he had eaten those things himself.

Now, I’ve never done well with dairy. I’ve never been told I’m lactose intolerant, but my stomach just isn’t a fan of digesting dairy without pain and other unpleasant issues. That’s not to say I didn’t stuff my face with it. All the good things have dairy: lasagna, queso blanco, goat cheese, fro yo. You get it, I know you do.

I’ve never noticed an issue with gluten or soy particularly, but aside from being in a perpetual state of semi-starvation, I actually felt good on this crazy baby-induced diet. Really good. Then my son started outgrowing his allergies. First wheat. Then soy. Dairy is still questionable but he’s at least more tolerant of it, if not completely. But now I’m the one having issues. I slowly started eating those favorite foods I’d been avoiding for so long. A soy latte from Starbucks. A frozen pizza and pale ale. A bagel. My favorite brand of hummus. (Can you believe that contains soy?) That’s when I started feeling like crap. I hadn’t even gotten to the dairy yet. That really sent things downhill.

At first I thought it was just because I was eating stuff that could barely be called food. Let’s face it, pizza and beer never did anyone any favors. But even when I stuck with healthy choices, the cruddy feelings continued. So what’s the deal? Am I allergic to these foods too? Is that where my son’s allergies came from? Or is my digestive system just rebelling after such a long period of total abstinence?

Dairy is as almost hotly debated as gluten in the health world. Why? Because many people do not have the ability to digest dairy. It’s actually less common to be able to digest it, as opposed to being intolerant. Being able to breakdown the sugar in dairy, called lactose, is known as lactase persistence. (Lactase is the enzyme that breaks down lactose.) It’s a genetic mutation that’s been passed down through the generations.

Back to those people that can’t digest it properly (which is most of us, remember). Feeling like crud after adding dairy (or gluten) back into your diet is not an uncommon phenomenon.  People that revert to eating dairy after following a vegan diet may experience the same thing. It’s likely those people, myself included, were unable to properly digest dairy in the first place, as opposed to the vegan diet causing the lactose intolerance. The difference is we just didn’t notice how bad it was making us feel until we eliminated it.

Note: Lactose isn’t the only part of dairy we can be intolerant to. We can also have trouble breaking down the proteins in dairy, called casein and whey, much like some people have trouble breaking down gluten, the protein in wheat.

So when it comes down to it, it’s probably not your diet causing new food sensitivities – it’s the change in eating habits that’s highlighting what was already there.

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