Monday, 29 August 2016

Mythbusting: Milk is the only way to get calcium

Up until the age of about 25, I thought that breakfast made me nauseous. Yep, breakfast. I'd noticed a pattern that every time I had breakfast before work or school, I was queasy by about 11 o'clock. So I got into the habit of skipping the most important meal of the day altogether and waiting for lunchtime. It wasn't until after I stopped drinking milk and eating other dairy products, that I realized that it wasn't breakfast itself, but the milk in my cereal that was causing me trouble.

When I cut out it out, other things started to make sense as well. It wasn't the stress, but the milk in the help-me-stay-up-late-to write-essays lattes that were causing me stomach aches in college. Those mysterious sharp pains in my lower abdomen that were sometimes so strong that it was hard for me to walk, also disappeared. It had all been because I was/am lactose intolerant.

Chances are that, if you're reading this, you're lactose intolerant too. I say this because you're probably a human person and despite a name that would make you think it's a rarity, as much as 70% of the world's population is lactose intolerant.
Map of Global Lactose Intolerance. See large image here

What is widely referred to as 'intolerance' is actually the general state of affairs. It is mainly people with Norther European heritage, that's white folks, whose cuisine has been linked with dairy farming for eons, that seem to be able to able to digest lactose. The rest of the world puts up with the bloating and pain because they like the taste of cheesecake and ice cream, but it's probably not doing them any good.

What happens in the body when you're lactose intolerant?
It's about your gut. Lactose is a sugar found in milk. When you drink milk, your body digests lactose with an enzyme called lactase. If you are lactose 'intolerant' then you don't have enough of this enzyme to deal with the grilled cheese sandwich or the pecan praline ice cream you just ate! As a result, your colon tries to pick up the processing slack. Or to say it in a sciencey sort of way:
In lactose intolerance, the individual has a deficiency in lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose. Normally, lactose is broken down in the small intestine by lactase and very little lactose reaches the large intestine where the bacteria break it down to produce hydrogen. In lactose intolerance (lactase deficiency), the ingested lactose is not metabolized in the small intestine and reaches the colon where it is metabolized by colonic bacteria producing a large amount of hydrogen which is measured in the breath sample. This excessive fermentation can cause symptoms and diarrhoea.
The hydrogen detected in the breath and is one of the ways to discover of you are lactose intolerant.  All of these processes cause the symptoms that I'm not too proud to say I've experienced like bloating, cramping, nausea, as well as wonderful things like diarrhea, constipation, and gas. Yeah, it's the best. 

What do you do about it?
I tried a few things over then years but abstinence is the most effective. What I have is not a milk allergy, I don't break out in a rash or anything, but the more I have the more uncomfortable I become. So, though I am vegan, I could physically manage one bite of my grandmoms mac n cheese without too much trouble, but couldn't manage a bowl of Haagen Daaz, even if I wanted to. There are pills you can get over the counter that can ease the aches and pains but in my experience they also act as a bit of a laxative, meaning that you end up replacing one problem with another. Not a glamorous topic I know but truth is truth.

What about calcium?
Yes of course. The biggest side effect of being lactose intolerant is a calcium deficiency, right? Wrong. It's aaaaalllll over the internet but it is complete and utter nonsense. There are so many natural, easy, delicious, plant-based sources of calcium it's not even funny. Don't believe me? Let me spell it out...

Do you like pictures better? Let's put it another way with a little help from the folks at Viva.

There are so many things to chose from. So many many delicious things. And one of them is HUMMUS so as a vegan I'm already eating this 30 times a week anyway!

Are you worried about my calcium? because I'm not!


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