Did you know that roughly 75% of adults are lactose intolerant? Dairy is considered the #1 food allergen in most societies, and some of the healthiest people never touch dairy products. A dairy intolerance can be attributed to a whole bunch of health concerns, one of which is weight gain.
No one enjoys how they feel after they’ve eaten something that doesn’t agree with them, right? You usually know right away what food you’re obviously intolerant to, and for many that includes dairy.
Unfortunately, many people have a dairy intolerance and don’t even realize it! I was one of those people. I didn’t eat a ton of dairy but I did always feel puffy and tired. It was when my acne flared up to embarrassing levels that I eliminated all dairy from my diet. My acne got slightly better. But, I also noticed I didn’t feel as tired all the time. Nor did my belly distend quite as far after eating.
Hmmm, turns out, I have a dairy intolerance!
Food Intolerances and Your Body
Let’s back up just a bit here and talk about food intolerances in general. For the most part, people develop (or are born with) food intolerances or sensitivities to foods containing some type of protein. Or to foods for which specific digestive enzymes are lacking.
Proteins, if not fully digested, make their way through the gut walls and into the bloodstream. Your immune system is activated because it doesn’t recognize these foreign invaders (the proteins). This activation turns on your inflammatory response, causing low-grade inflammation throughout your body.
In turn, you may experience headaches, joint pain, heart flutters, brain fog, fatigue, acne or even diarrhea. The list of health symptoms associated with inflammation is very, very long! (This means getting inflammation under control is super important.)
When you lack adequate enzymes to break down foods, those foods sit in your intestines and fester, causing gas, bloating and other discomfort. If you have a known dairy intolerance, you certainly will know what I’m talking about!
You can have a dairy intolerance in at least one of three ways.
First, you might be lactose intolerant. When your body lacks the enzyme needed to digest lactose, you feel those awful symptoms pretty quickly after eating dairy.
Your body has an enzyme called lactase. Lactase breaks down lactose into smaller sugars. When lactose isn’t broken down, it becomes food for gut bacteria. Bacteria ferment the lactose and create gases in your intestinal tract.
If you find you tolerate yogurt or kefir but not other dairy products, this is fairly common. The fermented dairy doesn’t have nearly as much lactose in it as non-fermented dairy. Butter also has lower levels of lactose.
Note that lactose is also used as a filler in many soups, baked goods, pill coatings, and sauces.
Some people notice that their intolerance to dairy increases with age. Because we, as kids and teenagers, ate SO MUCH dairy, we depleted our lactase stores. This is the reason adults suddenly experience symptoms of lactose intolerance. If this has happened to you and you aren’t willing to give up dairy, take a 6 month break from it and then try it again – often the break will replenish your enzymes. If not, well, it might be best to say good-bye to dairy for good. (Don’t worry, you’ll actually start to feel so much better that you won’t even miss it!)
Milk Protein Sensitivity
Most people know about lactose intolerance. Yet many don’t realize that a dairy intolerance can also stretch to its proteins.
I’ve had a few clients who tell me that they don’t feel well after eating dairy. They’ve decided to cut it from their diet, which is great, yet they still don’t quite feel right. Then I ask them about their protein powder.
There are a LOT of protein powders out there that contain two milk proteins – casein and whey. Whey is super popular in the fitness industry and often touted as the go-to protein for building and maintaining strong muscles.
This is fine, of course, IF you don’t have a dairy intolerance or allergy. And, like I said before, most people do!
So before I tell you a bit more about these two proteins, if you suspect or know you have a dairy intolerance, check your protein powder. I highly recommend a fermented plant-based protein powder, like this one; otherwise, look for other plant-based proteins like hemp, beans, peas or brown rice. Collagen peptides are another great source if you’re not vegetarian.
Let’s Talk About Casein and Whey
A food intolerance or sensitivity manifests as reactions either shortly after you’ve eaten the food or much later, like up to 72 hours later. They’re hard to pin down.
A food allergy usually manifests almost as soon as you eat the food. So, keep this in mind.
Because dairy is such a widely known food allergen, it has to be marked on Canadian food labels. This is a good thing, because I strongly suggest that you avoid dairy!
Milk allergies are allergic reactions to the milk proteins, casein and whey. Casein is in the milk ‘curds’ or solids; whey is in the liquid.
You may have an allergy or intolerance to one, but not the other. The best way to figure this out is to get an allergy or food intolerance test done.
Whey and casein can provoke a true inflammatory immune response. You may get a rash, or hives, or vomiting. You’ll know if you have an allergy! Not nearly as many people have an allergy to these proteins as people have intolerance to lactose.
Often people with gluten intolerance are also intolerant (or allergic) to whey and casein.
Both casein and whey can be found in other foods, so make sure to always read your food labels.
How Does a Dairy Intolerance Make You Fat
Recall that a dairy intolerance causes low-grade inflammation throughout your body. If you read some of my previous blogs or listened to my webinar last month, you’ll also know that chronic low-grade inflammation can make you fat!
You see, when your body is chronically inflamed, it causes your stress hormone, cortisol, to constantly be ‘on’. When cortisol is circulating, it is busy telling your liver and muscle cells to convert stored glucose (aka glycogen) into its usable form.
Glucose is released into the blood, which tells the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin then goes about its day, trying to get that glucose out of the blood and into the cells. The thing is, the muscles and the liver don’t need any more, nor do most of your other cells.
Since that glucose has to go somewhere, insulin shunts it to fat cells.
A dairy intolerance promotes chronic, low-grade inflammation, and thus fat storage!
Let’s Fix This!
Let me be clear – eliminating all dairy from your diet isn’t going to miraculously make you thin.
However, because dairy affects such a huge population, when people do eliminate all dairy, even yogurt, they start to notice slimming effects. Inflammation causes puffiness, and often that puffy and bloated feeling goes away. Your skin may clear up, and your joint pain may decrease.
Since there are so many potential foods that could be causing your inflammation (not to mention how you eat, your stress levels, your exercise levels, etc.), it’s hard to figure out exactly which foods are causing your to look and feel puffy.
Wheat is another pro-inflammatory food and the second most prominent food allergen. So, if you want to start your weight loss journey and you’re still eating dairy and wheat, now might be the time to ditch both foods.
If you feel any discomfort, or notice any inflammatory symptoms (see above) after eating dairy, your body might benefit from complete elimination of it.
You don’t need dairy. That’s false advertising by the Dairy Industry. Our bodies weren’t meant to consume the bodybuilding food of an animal that is supposed to grow to roughly 10 times our weight. It’s no surprise that dairy leads to weight gain – it’s designed by nature for bulk up calves for good prices on the meat market.
You can get better sources of calcium from dark green vegetables, salmon bones, or even many different nuts and seeds (sesame seeds have a lot of calcium).
If you’ve already removed dairy from your diet, let me know in the comments below what your experience was!