A selection of dairy produce containing lactose

Q & A: Do I have a dairy intolerance?

“I think I may have a dairy intolerance as every time I have cow’s milk or food containing butter, I suffer from stomach bloating, wind and diarrhoea. I haven’t had any tests, but it’s certainly better when I don’t eat these foods. And with Christmas around the corner I don’t want to miss out. Have you any advice? “

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer replies.

It does indeed sound like you either have an intolerance to dairy produce or a lactose intolerance (people with a lactose intolerance lack the enzyme lactase, which helps to break down milk sugars).

Firstly, your GP can test for a lactose intolerance via a simple hydrogen breath test. It’s important to get this diagnosis as if you are lactose intolerant your diet does not have to be as restrictive as a dairy-free one. The good news is that most people with a lactose intolerance can still eat yoghurt (preferably Greek), cheese and butter, so you won’t be missing out on calcium and other key nutrients.

An intolerance to dairy is different from an allergy, which is a life-long condition. An intolerance can simply mean that maybe you are eating too much dairy produce or your digestive system is struggling to cope. This can often vary depending on what foods you are combining with dairy. The positive news here is that after a break, you may be able to slowly re-introduce dairy to your daily diet, and any symptoms that recur will be self-limiting.

Traditional Christmas Day lunch or dinner should be fine for you, but you may need to avoid bread sauce, which contains milk, or stuffing, which contains butter. However, if you’re doing the cooking, there are plenty of other milks to use such as soya, rice, nut or oat milks, and I’m sure your guests won’t notice the difference.

There are also dairy-free margarines, soya, coconut and other nut-based yoghurts, plus dairy-free cheese all of which you could try. You can even buy delicious dairy-free ice cream, which works well on poached pears (a great traditional dessert or dairy-free Christmas pud). Other animal produce such as goat’s or sheep is generally better tolerated in these situations.

And indeed if your doctor diagnoses a lactose intolerance (which is more likely), your Christmas need not be as complicated as you thought. Hope that helps.

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