Dairy-free alternatives have recently been taking up more space in store shelves. The reason being is that people have come to realise they aren’t able to digest milk and other dairy products as well as they used to.
This common digestive disorder is called lactose intolerance. Lactose is a type of sugar mainly found in milk and dairy products. To digest the lactose, there is an enzyme in your small bowel called lactase. If you lack this enzyme, the sugar doesn’t break down properly and goes into your colon unabsorbed. This can cause symptoms which include abdominal pain, skin problems, bloating, nausea and flatulence.
Cape Town Gastroenterologist Dr Monique Marais says there hasn’t been an increase in people with lactose intolerance but rather an increase in awareness of the symptoms. “I think our diets have changed over the years, we have a lot of dairy products available.”
“People often want to know whether they need to exclude all dairy products or lactose containing products and the short answer is no, it's probably not necessary. The amount of lactose in certain dairy products vary. The highest amount is probably in your milk, ice-cream and condensed milk, whereas your cheeses have lower levels of lactose.”
Dr Marais says that a way to determine if you are lactose intolerant or not is to cut out dairy products for a period of time and see if the symptoms continue. Alternatively, your doctor would be able to test.
“You can try to avoid high doses of lactose, but it doesn't mean you need to exclude it altogether,” she said.