How Now Brown Cow

by Rachel on September 9, 2009

Do you remember growing up and seeing every big celebrity get milk mustached? We were constantly told that milk does a body good. But it actually might not be doing 60 percent of adults good. Say what?!

I have come across info like this before, but USA Today is shouting it loud and clear: the ability to digest lactose (aka the natural sugar found in milk) is a genetic abnormality. No species but humans can digest milk into adulthood; and 60 percent of humans actually can’t do it. According to the article, “In normal humans, the enzyme that does so —lactase— stops being produced when the person is between two and five years old.”

So…six of 10 people reading this…is that you? Do you get bloating, pain, gas, or gurgling in your tummy after a glass of milk? You might want to give it a thought; only in the past year did I realize I was having this problem!

I like milk, but I love cheese. Give me a baguette and a slab of Brie and I will not want for anything. I like cheddar, Provolone, cheap shredded stuff. I really only draw the line at anything containing “cheez.” But this past year, I noticed that after I had cheese, my stomach would hurt. It would just feel kind of…heavy. And sort of…greasy. It was the same after having milk on my cereal or having ice cream. And one day, I finally made the connection. Maybe my body is just saying, “Nope. Over it.” I was amazed by how much flatter and calmer my stomach was throughout the day after dropping dairy products from my lunch.

So I cut it out as much as possible. Am I happy about this? Not particularly. I miss quesadillas and feta on my salads. Now one bite of string cheese is all it takes to give me that, “Ugh,” feeling. Sometimes it’s worth it, but on the whole, I know I feel better when I go without.

Upon further research, I found that dairy products that contain probiotics—like yogurt and kefir—might be easier for the intolerant types among us to digest. (The natural bacteria helps break down the lactose.) This has definitely been true for me; now I can’t live without my daily yogurt fix. I’ve also found that packaged cheese singles don’t bother me as much; I attribute this to the fact that they are so processed it barely counts as real cheese.

Being lactose intolerant really isn’t a big deal. There are a variety of substitute products on the market, from creamer to cream cheese. But rather than use replacements, I’ve switched from dairy-based snacks to “healthy fat” snacks that contain around the same number of calories (like almonds instead of yogurt or PB instead of string cheese). In meals, I often add in beans or healthy fats. No feta in that salad? More chickpeas! And no cheese on a sandwich leaves more room for avocado! The bonus is that these are usually healthier choices anyway.

But what about osteoporosis? Can you still get calcium? Well, yes. From any dairy you can tolerate, plus soy milk, enriched cereals, leafy greens, broccoli, and supplements. I also build up my bones through running and lifting weights (these activities actually make your bones stronger). Drinking milk doesn’t guarantee you’re getting enough calcium anyway—a lot of the pro-milk research on that subject comes straight from the dairy industry—so a variety of calcium-rich foods are an important part of any diet.

Sixty percent of adults is an awfully high number, so it might be worth taking note of how you feel after eating dairy. If you have any symptoms, skip it and see how you feel. If you do realize milk is to blame, don’t feel bad. You’re in the majority—those with the abnormal genes who can digest milk are the real freaks.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: