So what is a food allergy?
A food allergy is when the immune system reacts to certain foods. While symptoms are often mild, they can be severe and, in some cases, life-threatening. Any food can cause a reaction and the body will respond differently to different foods, however, there are certain foods known for causing allergies, such as milk, peanuts and shellfish.
What is a food intolerance?
A food intolerance can be more difficult to diagnose, despite being much more common. Symptoms aren’t life-threatening but they can leave a person feeling very unwell. As a food intolerance does not involve the immune system, the causes are unclear. Intolerances are however believed to be affected by certain lifestyles, for example diets with erratic food intake or a diet high in refined foods but low in fibre.
Do you get bloating, stomach cramps and wind that seem to occur after eating cheese or drinking milk? If so you are likely to have an intolerance to casein (a protein) or lactose (a sugar) in milk. A casein allergy is much less common and is a severe immune response that can include itching or wheezing.
People who are intolerant to lactose means that they don’t have enough of the enzyme lactase that digests this sugar. Lactase can decrease over time after illness, surgery, medication stress, or poor diet. If you are lactose intolerant milk, cream and yoghurt are most likely to cause symptoms.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance typically occur between 30 minutes and two hours after eating or drinking a milk or dairy product, and may include:
The symptoms can range from mild to severe. The severity depends on how much lactose was consumed and how much lactase the person has actually made.
A casein intolerance is less common and also causes gastrointestinal symptoms. It can also manifest with more systemic symptoms like fatigue, headache and joint pain. If you have a casein intolerance you are most likely to have symptoms after eating hard cheese, cottage cheese or Greek yoghurt.
How to deal with a dairy intolerance
Remove all dairy products for one month. Look out for hidden dairy in processed and ready prepared food. A nutritionist can help you through this phase as you are likely to need some gut healing nutrients and lifestyle advice - you should notice a big difference in how you feel.
If it's unclear whether you have a casein or lactose intolerance, you can re-introduce dairy products after one month one at a time, slowly, to see how your body reacts and whether you can tolerate any dairy products or need to avoid them all. If you have an obvious casein intolerance then you will need to continue to avoid all dairy indefinitely.
Don't worry about not getting enough calcium, there are lots of ways to get enough without dairy. Watercress, parsley, nuts, beans, kale, sardines, sesame seeds calcium enriched nut milks... there are lots of good alternative sources. You can also get lactose free dairy products – nut milk and cheese, and some people can tolerate goat's or sheep's milk products but not cows.
Be careful- Many foods that you would not expect to contain milk may actually contain milk and lactose. Examples include:
non-kosher lunch meats
dry breakfast cereals
many instant soups
Milk and milk products are often added to processed foods. Even some nondairy creamers and medications may contain milk products and lactose.