Moooo . . . isn’t she cute? Big smooch!
A couple of years ago, I thought I might have a problem with the protein in milk (casein), which sometimes occurs when you have celiac disease and you’re not breaking down your food properly. Casein is molecularly similar to gluten, so it is believed to illicit a negative response in some people. I went totally dairy free (none, zip, zilch) for over a year. Then I decided to ease back into it and before I even had time to reintroduce words like fromage back into my vocabulary, I was eating chunks of camembert with pecans, grating a nice parmigiano reggiano on salads, or topping beefsteak tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil. Not to mention daily doses of my all-time favorite treat, vanilla goat yogurt. I slid right back into drinking milk and eating dairy products like there was no tomorrow.
Darn it – it’s not working so well for me now so I’m back on the dairy-free bandwagon although I may consider dabbling in raw milk as an alternative.
What’s the deal with dairy, anyway?
If you want some answers, grab a cup of green tea, because my friend, Daisy, is going to clear a few things up for you. We’ll start with the basics.
Lactose is the sugar in milk. It’s a disaccharide (double sugar) composed of glucose and galactose linked together. Lactase is the enzyme that breaks this double sugar bond and if we don’t produce enough lactase to break the bond, we can’t absorb the sugars. Single sugars we can deal with, double sugars are too big to be absorbed. If these disaccharides aren’t absorbed, they end up as tasty treats for the bacteria housed in the digestive tract – and this bacterial frenzy causes all kinds of intestinal discomfort. After about the age of 4 or 5 our production of the sugar splitting enzyme (lactase) declines dramatically – for most of us anyway. And if you have celiac, it makes breaking down sugars even harder (there’s a reason for that but I’ll save it for another post). So, although gluten, casein, and lactose are all different substances, there are reasons each can cause problems for people with celiac or gluten-intolerance.
In addition to lactose, cow’s milk also contains several different kinds of proteins that can cause reactions in people sensitive to them. These proteins may register in the system as “foreign” substances and cause an immune response. If you already have an immune mediated response to gluten – these proteins may be bothersome as well.
Here are some dairy-related definitions that will help you understand this big milky picture.
Lactose intolerance: a condition that results from an inability to digest the milk sugar lactose; characterized by bloating, gas, abdominal discomfort, and diarrhea.
Casein: a protein found in milk. It has a molecular structure that is similar to gluten and can cause an autoimmune response in people sensitive to it. Casein is the curd portion of curds and whey. Casein intolerance is different from lactose intolerance.
Whey: the liquid protein portion remaining after milk has been curdled and is used in the production of ricotta and brown cheeses. Whey is thought to be a migraine trigger in certain people.
Rennet: enzymes produced to digest mother’s milk (all mammals produce this enzyme). Rennet is used in the production of cheese.
Another concern is the potential connection between ovarian cancer and high lactose intake. A November 2004 article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests a possible relationship between high intakes of milk products and a specific type of ovarian cancer. More studies are needed to quantify this relationship, but it’s certainly something to think about if you have a strong family history of ovarian cancer. And is it the milk, or the processing and additives involved that cause the problems? The relationship was NOT made between raw milk and ovarian cancer. Something else to think about.
Consumer’s have been conditioned to believe we “need” to eat dairy products to maintain strong bones and enjoy optimal health. The Dairy Council is hard at work trying to convince us that we need several servings per day of dairy products to obtain the necessary calcium and nutrients for overall health. You know – the whole “Got Milk” campaign.
Well, that’s not necessarily true. With a little effort and a lot of knowledge, we can get plenty of calcium from other food sources. And if absolutely necessary, calcium supplements are also an option.
I have to say, I feel more vitality and a decrease in joint and muscle aches and pains when I exclude dairy from my diet. And as I said, it could be the types of dairy products I’m choosing, but I do believe it’s the casein that causes an immune response in my system. We each have to figure out what works best for us – for health and for ethical reasons. Raw milk and cheese may provide an alternative for people who have “issues” with dairy products. Cared for and pastured animals, grass fed and free of antibiotics and hormones, produce nutritious milk. Evidence has shown that high quality raw milk may be a good alternative for those suffering from lactose or casein intolerance. Pasteurization and the way the animals are treated (drugs, factory farms, grains, etc.) may be the culprit rather than the milk itself.
In the meantime, here’s a list of calcium-rich food sources for those of you who don’t eat dairy for whatever reasons. Many of these foods also contain other nutrients that play a role in bone health (magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, boron), so add them to your shopping cart to boost overall health!
teff (a wonderfully healthy GF grain)
amaranth (another great GF grain)
In good health,
Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.