Friday, December 5, 2008

Dairy I do. Dairy I don't.

lactose intoleranceWhy do I love cheese? And yet find my stomach cringing when I indulge in some festive eggnog this holiday season? As my body seems to be telling me, it's all about lactose - the sugar naturally found in milk that some people are able to digest and some are not.

We all have varying degrees of sensitivity to the white stuff. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a medical group that advocates a vegan diet, 95% of Asian Americans, 70% of African Americans, and 53% of Mexican Americans are lactose intolerant. This compares to 15% of Caucasians.

Some dairy products, like milk and eggnog, are higher in lactose than others. While some products contain far lower levels of lactose (e.g. butter, hard cheese, ghee, yogurt). Each individual has a different level of sensitivity.

Why is this? A lot has to do with the way it's been processed. Hard cheese, through its fermentation process loses much of the lactose. Yogurt with live probiotics contains the enzyme lactase which aids in digestion. And ghee, clarified butter used in India, is stripped of lactose (or milk solids) in its processing.

I made the personal choice to add moderate amounts of dairy to my diet, because it is one of the few foods that contain fat. Other than nuts and oils, there aren't many other sources of fat in the plant kingdom. And fat, is an essential nutrient in diet. We often are taught to shun it, because most of us eat too much of it. But there are also others (notably vegetarians and vegans) who often don't get enough. Fat is essential to healthy skin, hair, nails, and a well functioning reproductive system.

It is also said in ancient Ayurvedic wisdom, that 'saatvic' foods like dairy help make us more calm and peaceful.

Think about all the happy people you know who enjoy cheese. There must be something to this! But when it comes to eggnog, I think I'll opt for the Silk Nog.


Tangled Noodle said...

Nice post! I'm in that '95% of Asians' category so I've had to switch to 1% milk or soymilk. It's theorized that lactose intolerance may be linked to the absence of a milking culture - the hardest hit are groups from societies that do not have a history of dairy production and consumption.

Ameet said...

Hi Tangled, I definitely think there is a correlation here. The Indian culture has a long history with dairy and the population seems to have a much higher tolerance to lactose. Although, I think it is possible we still consume too much of it!

Wikipedia compiled an interesting list of different ethnic groups and their tolerance to lactose. An interesting read, although I am not sure how thorough the studies are.

Integrative Nutrition