I’ve been planning this blog for the last few weeks, and planning the best things to include in this post. I’ve been officially diagnosed with lactose intolerances for a few years now, but prior to that spent a very long time unwell with no idea of the cause. Funnily enough, before I was sent to see a specialist, I had no idea what lactose was – which is the same for most people. This post is for people who are lactose intolerant / vegan or just want to learn a little bit more about it!
So what exactly is lactose?
Lactose is a sugar that is found only in dairy products (milk, cheese, butter, cream). This means that products made using milk are likely to contain lactose, therefore you need to be careful about what you eat. Lactose can be found in anything from chocolate to crisps, even in some types of bread! So if you (or someone you know) has a severe intolerance to it, (like myself) you really need to be careful about what you eat.
So what is lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is when the body does not produce enough (or any) lactase. Lactase is an enzyme in the digestive system that helps break down lactose when passed through the gut. For most people their bodies continue to develop lactase into adulthood (which technically isn’t needed). When we are babies we have these enzymes to help digest the milk given to us by our mothers. As we get older and start eating and drinking without the need of a mother, we stop needed the enzyme too. When I was a baby, all I could really drink was milk. As I got older my body stopped producing this enzyme and therefore I became lactose intolerant. It can happen at any age – but is most common in teenagers and young adults. The key thing to remember here is that an intolerance is different to an allergy. Whilst an allergy can target the immune system and a number of organs, the intolerance (for most) targets the digestive system.
What were my symptoms and how do I know I’ve had lactose?
For me the main thing is sleep. I know I’ve had lactose because I cannot sleep and feel incredibly uncomfortable in my stomach and head. The symptoms vary incredibly depending on the person and severity of their intolerance. For me my behaviour changes, I become unresponsive, I sleep a lot but feel tired, the skin around my eyes gets dark and I become exhausted and bloated. The bloating usually lasts about 48 hours, but the other aspects can go on for at least a week! The worst thing for me though can be the fact I don’t do a number two for up to two weeks at a time… As you can probably guess, this was all really scary to me when I first started to feel like it.
I ended up having a laparoscopy to find out what was wrong, I also had a colonoscopy and endoscopy, which were the most horrific things I have had done to me! I passed out from the pain of the colonoscopy… Mainly because the laxatives they had given me to take prior to the operation, did literally nothing! I am now completely off lactose and carry around lactase tablets I got from Natures Best. I cannot recommend these enough! I take them when I go out for dinner, even if I order something vegan… I don’t like to take the chance.
A few weeks ago I went out for coffee with a friend. I ordered a soya chai late as I do every-time i go for coffee. I’m usually extremely observant and make sure they use soya milk, but on this occasion I was talking to my friend and didn’t think twice. I drank my chai, thinking it tasted a little different but didn’t initially think anything of it. Later on that day I was horribly sick at work and that was when I knew that I had had lactose at some point in that day. The only thing I could think of, was that coffee! Annoyingly, there isn’t much that can be done once you have digested lactose, you can’t take the lactase tablets. You need to take the tablets before hand (I’d suggest 30 minutes), just to make sure, otherwise you will (as I call it) get poisoned!
What do I eat instead?
There are a lot of amazing things out there now for people who have lactose intolerance. I personally have Arla’s lactose free range. I haven’t gone full out vegan yet, I’m not sure if I ever will, but when I am over friends houses or eat out, I am vegan. It’s only at home I have milk in my tea. Be that as it may, I do also have coconut milk, soya milk and other subsitutes at home quite frequently. My Mum, best friend and boyfriend are all getting really good at understanding what I can and can’t eat which s really nice. They all make the effort to ensure that I have the correct cheese or milk if I visit them, which makes my life so much easier. So if you’re reading this, and you have a friend or loved one who has this – they will appreciate it so much if you get them something without even asking. Trust me!
My intolerance is so bad that I can’t even have cheese if it has extremely low levels of lactose in it. It’s extremely frustrating to be honest with you, but I’ve been experimenting for a while now – and find it’s best to just avoid it at all costs.
If I am completely honest. I don’t much like vegan cheese. It’s something I am starting to get used too though. A great website to check out is Vegusto. They do an amazing selection of vegan foods! Go there.
This is easy for me! I LOVE vegan milks. They are so yummy and there is so much variation!
- Soy milk
- Almond milk
- Hemp milk
- Oat milk
- Coconut milk
- Rice milk
- sunflower milk
- Quinoa Milk
- Flax milk
- Cashew milk
I am not a huge fan of all of these I have to be honest with you. my favourite ‘go-to’ milks are coconuts and soya on this list. They are delicious (and coconut milk is low in fats).
It is a really great time to be lactose intolerant, I can’t imagine what people did in the 70’s… My great grandmother was lactose intolerant and she spend her whole life horrendously ill because of it (she like me loved butter). So what do we do? Firstly be VERY careful. A lot of brands that state ‘I can’t believe its not butter’ or say ‘sunflower spread’ actually contain buttermilk which, you guessed it! Contains lactose.
These are my main go-too butters for baking and spreading. They are all fantastic and you will soon find you can’t tell the difference!
I won’t lie – I did cry when I found out I was lactose intolerant. NO MORE CHOCOLATE? I haven’t had a bar of ‘normal’ chocolate in genuinely years. I only ever eat dark chocolate now (it has to be 70% or over and have no creams in the middle). I don’t miss chocolate at all, and quite honestly I find the smell of it rather sickening now. My love of sweet things has turned to dried mango or candy (not sure if this is a good thing or not). The best dark chocolate I’ve had so far is Lindt 70%. It’s so yummy and good! So I recommend that if you haven’t tried it yet.
So I really hoped that helped you all understand a little bit more about lactose intolerance and what you can do to avoid getting ill in the future. If you have any questions or want me to post recipes for things please do not hesitate to ask! I make the most amazing vegan cakes and breads and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference (no really, my friends don’t know)!