Thursday, April 25, 2013

not all dairy is created equal, or things I wish I had known

I first went off dairy in December 2011 at the advice of our (long-gone) paediatrician. She said Youngest's problems were likely a sudden, mild dairy intolerance. She didn't actually recommend I eliminate dairy because it was such a mild intolerance but I could see my baby wasn't doing well, so I gave it a try. It didn't make a whole lot of difference to Youngest, although his skin got a little better, but I noticed, after the first week of feeling like hell, that *I* felt MUCH better.

The following February, I connected with a naturopath, because it was clear that Youngest still wasn't doing well, and I wasn't sure what else to try eliminating. She guided me in eliminating pretty much everything. His symptoms all cleared up, and so we carefully tested a bunch of foods that had been eliminated. I was really looking forward to the dairy challenge and I planned a big dairy-stravaganza. I had oatmeal cooked with milk for breakfast and a yogurt-blueberry smoothie for a snack. Then homemade (gluten-free) macaroni and cheese for lunch and the plan was to have it for dinner too. But by the time dinner came around, I was feeling so horribly ill, I couldn't face any more dairy. Youngest also reacted to the dairy.

In the summer, when Youngest still wasn't thriving despite having eliminated all the seeming culprits, the naturopath suggested we try him on cheese and yogurt separately to try to get some more calorie-rich foods into him. We found he could tolerate yogurt but not cheese. Strangely, she didn't suggest giving him butter.

Since then, I have learned a few things about the potential allergens in dairy products, and they are not all created equal. People seem very quick to jump on the elimination bandwagon, but I'm not convinced it's the safest course of action. I know for myself, I tried eliminating everything before I'd given even a moment's thought to how I might replace those nutrients in my diet. I suspect, in as gentle and non-blaming a way as I can, that eliminating all those foods so suddenly contributed to Youngest's malnourishment. It certainly wreaked havoc with my milk supply. So I guess I'm saying I think it's worth considering adding in as much non-allergenic, protein-rich foods into your diet before you start taking away gluten and dairy.

Anyways... here is what I wish I had known when I first started eliminating dairy. I suspect I have a lactose intolerance. Lactose is the sugar in milk. Our family doctor keeps talking about it being a fat, but it is not. I've also heard people talk about how their babies were lactose-intolerant and so they too had to cut out dairy, but that is highly unlikely, as breastmilk is full of lactose. Most babies react to the protein in cow's milk, of which there are two: casein and whey. Most babies who can't tolerate cow's milk, also can't tolerate sheep or goat's milk, but that is not something I have actually tested myself (yet).

Butter is the least allergenic dairy product. It has very little lactose in it and almost no protein. It does have some milk solids in it, which may contain traces of lactose and protein in it that can cause reactions in some people but not usually many. If you can't tolerate butter, unless you have an anaphylactic allergy, you will definitely be able to tolerate ghee or clarified butter (so says my dietician who has a PhD so I trust her on these matters). As I learned recently in Jennifer McLagan's book Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes, (a wonderful book that I highly recommend) clarified butter is not the same thing as ghee. I haven't actually made either (yet) as butter has been fine on its own for both me and Youngest.

And while I'm on the subject of butter, in case you didn't know, it is an amazing health food. Vegetable oils are devoid of vitamin and the oxidize easily, making dangerous free radicals that can hurt your cells. But butter is rich in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, especially if it's made from the milk of grass-fed cows. I have found a local source of butter and I believe the cows are grazed during the months of green grass. I buy Nutri-Springs butter from the Stone Store here in town, but one day I plan to go out to the farm to pick up more of their offerings. Here is an article from the Weston Price Foundation with more of butter's health benefits. The 'science' that generated the Lipid Hypothesis (the idea that animal fats are the cause of heart disease) was completely wrong. You can google it if you want and read until the cows come home.

Yogurt is probably the next least allergenic dairy product, but not all yogurts are created equal. Because it's fermented, both the lactose and the casein are much more digestible. Watch the ingredients though. Many times, especially in low-fat yogurts, milk solids are added back in after fermentation, which means you're getting a whack of lactose and casein without the benefit of fermentation. Low-fat yogurts also have a host of other ingredients, so I always go full-fat. My favourite yogurt, which is also relatively local and available at the Stone Store, is Saugeen Country yogurt. They use whole milk, unhomogenized but pasteurized, so you get little bits of cream that float to the top. Their website is really well-written and informative to boot, so they get bonus points from me.

All cheese has casein in it, I'm pretty sure. I admit I haven't done a ton of research in this area, but harder cheeses have very lactose in them, thanks to the fermentation. Unfortunately, my dear chevre has lots of lactose in it. I spoke to a goat farmer at our market recently, who himself is lactose-intolerant, and he can't tolerate his own chevre either. How sad! I also discovered this from personal experience. But he assured me his older, harder cheeses are tolerable. Which makes me think that all those jokes on Big Bang Theory about poor Leonard's lactose-intolerance are inaccurate. But what do I know? Everyone's different. I'm pretty sure cottage cheese is terrible for lactose but I haven't actually tested it myself or done much research, since I don't particularly miss it.

If I had to do it over again, I would have just eliminated milk and cheese to start, and left yogurt and butter in, since they are good sources of probiotics and vitamins, respectively. I think eliminating whole food groups from your diet should be done with great care and foresight. The dietician suspects that Youngest's intolerances are really secondary; his damaged gut is the primary problem, and gluten, soy and dairy proteins are the hardest for any gut to break down, especially once it's damaged. I think that gut problems are widespread, and perhaps that is the first thing to address, before eliminating foods wholesale. But that's just me.

I've heard a number of people say things like, "It's not rocket science," when talking about nutrition. Having a severely malnourished child, possibly due, at least in part, to my own lack of nourishment before and during pregnancy, gives me a different perspective. I think nutrition IS kind of rocket science. Especially since so much bad science, coupled with heavy lobbying from industry interests and strong marketing and advertising tactics, has pretty much destroyed any food culture we had. In my own family, I would have to go back to my great-grandmother's recipes, at least, to find real food.

So... I hope if you're considering eliminating dairy, or if you already have, this gives you some extra things to think about and some new ideas to try. I definitely think it's a good thing to try to figure out exactly what element of dairy causes you problems, so perhaps you can invite some other dairy products back into your life. I myself am in much happier with yogurt and butter back in my life.

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