Here Is Why Many People Are Lactose Intolerant + Homemade Milk Substitutes

Here Is Why Most People Are Lactose Intolerant

The United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends in their website to drink 3 cups of milk per day for an adult.

This high amount was widely criticized, based on a study that was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that provided additional evidence against large scale milk consumption. But whether you drink a large quantity of milk or not, you might be interested to learn that most people have lactose intolerance to some degree.

The reason for lactose intolerance

Humans are the only species that drink milk from another species. Other mammals stop producing the enzyme lactase – which breaks down milk sugar lactose into simpler sugars – when they are weaned.

Humans, however, can continue producing lactase and drink milk also when they reach adulthood. But, it turns out that about 75% of humans haven’t developed this physiological function, therefore are lactose intolerant. The condition is more common amongst non-Caucasians. Also, some groups of people have adapted better to milk due to their lifestyle and diet.

It is our natural state to be lactose intolerant. Evolutionary speaking, the ability to handle milk later in life is a more recent adaptation of the human body. Lactase’s only function is to transform lactose from milk into simpler components (galactose and glucose), so it is normal to stop producing it after breastfeeding, and to stop ingesting milk at that point too.

Some groups of people, especially those that enjoy a lot of milk, have developed a so called ‘lactase persistence’, which enables them to feed on a diet rich in milk and dairy products throughout their lives. This is actually a genetic mutation that is observed only in some people. In cultures where the use of milk is not so prevalent, this genetic adaptation hasn’t occurred.

Statistics shows that about 40 million American are lactose intolerant, and 75% of all adults have a decrease in lactose activity. In some Asian countries, 90% of the population can’t digest milk. It usually takes about 30 minutes to develop the side effects of lactose intolerance, so many people might not connect their discomfort with the glass of milk they’ve just had.

Symptoms of lactose intolerance:

These symptoms are a result of a defective digestion process that occurs when milk sugar doesn’t get digested by the enzyme lactase. Instead, it’s partially broken down by the bacteria in the intestines in a fermentation process that causes discomfort.

Not all dairy products cause lactose intolerance

Most people with lactose intolerance can manage small amounts of lactose, such as that found in a glass of milk. Also, not all dairy products are rich in lactose and can be consumed by people who struggle to digest lactose.

Hard and matured cheese (cheddar, Edam, Swiss, mozzarella, brie and feta) are more tolerated, as generally speaking, the older the cheese, the less lactose it has, and most of the lactose is gone after three months of aging.

Butter is low on lactose, so can be tolerated by most. Similarly, natural yogurt usually doesn’t cause an adverse reaction – its lactose content reduces each day as the bacteria use it for energy.

Milk kefir is also easily digested by people who are lactose intolerant. Enzymes in kefir grains break down lactose in kefir, making it easier to digest. Read more about milk kefir in my article about the proven benefits of kefir based on science.

How to avoid lactose

There are some foods that contain more lactose than you might think. These hidden sources include biscuits and cakes, pancakes, some breads, cheese sauces, cream soups, processed breakfast cereals and muesli bars.

If you want to avoid lactose, check the labels and look for food that has no:

  • Milk solids
  • Non-fat milk solids
  • Whey
  • Milk sugar

If you are lactose sensitive, go for milk substitutes like rice milk, coconut milk, almond milk, hemp milk, oat milk and other delicious dairy-free options.

Evidence Against Large Scale Milk Consumption

For decades, high milk consumption has been recommended for the prevention of osteoporotic fractures. Women in particular have been advised to drink plenty of milk. This ancient drink is rich in many essential nutrients, including calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D, so it was easy to persuade people to include milk in their daily diet.

However, when milk was scientifically scrutinized, its health benefits were questioned. Results of research that looked into the importance of milk intake for fracture prevention and the influence on mortality rates were conflicting. Many nutritional experts became cautious about milk, especially when consumed in large quantities.

The Study

On October 2014, a study was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that provided additional evidence against large scale milk consumption. This Swedish based study examined the association between milk consumption and time to mortality or fracture.

Two large cohorts were included, one with 61,433 women, and one with 45, 339 men. They all completed a food frequency questionnaire that recorded how many servings, a day or a week, they consumed of common foods, including milk, fermented milk, yogurt, and cheese. One serving of milk corresponded to one glass of 200 milliliters.

Women were then followed up for 20.1 years on average (and completed another questionnaire in 1997), while men were followed up for 11.2 years on average.

The Results of the Study

In women, a correlation between milk intake and mortality was observed. The more milk the female participants drank, the more likely it was for them to suffer a premature death.

There was also an association with fracture occurrence, especially hip fracture. Women who drank three or more glasses of milk a day had double the chance of dying during the study period compared to those who drank one glass only. But, already one glass of milk a day increased the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Men too had a higher rate of death if they consumed more milk, although the risks were more pronounced in women.

The authors of the study concluded that in both sexes high milk intake is associated with higher mortality and fracture rates, which questions the credibility of recommendations for high consumption of cow’s milk.

Explaining the Results

The explanation for milk’s ill effects on the body can probably be found in its high lactose and galactose content. These two substances cause oxidative stress and chronic low-grade inflammation, which are the pathogenic mechanisms behind cardiovascular disease and cancer in humans.

In animals, galactose consumption results in changes similar to aging, neurodegeneration, decreased immune response, and gene transcriptional changes.

Milk vs. Other Dairy Products

When Swedish scientists compared milk with other dairy products, no negative association was found. On the contrary, intake of fermented milk products such as yogurt, soured milk and cheese were associated with lower rates of fracture and mortality.

Previous studies revealed the health benefits of fermented milk products, including higher levels of good cholesterol, less insulin resistance, and a lower risk of heart attack. In this regard, read my article about fermented foods and their benefits, as well as my other article about better sources of calcium than dairy products. You may also wish to make your own milk substitutes.

Healthy Homemade Milk Substitutes (Only 2 Ingredients)

Below you can find healthy and nutritious milk substitutes that contain only 2 ingredients. These milk substitutes are not flavored, but you can add natural vanilla extract or cinnamon, or one of these natural sugar substitutes.

Almond Milk

Almond milk has a creamy nutty-flavor. It is lower in both fat and calories than reduced-fat cow’s milk, however, it is higher in carbohydrates than cow’s milk and only offers 1 gram of protein per cup compared to the 8 grams present in 1 cup of cow’s milk.

Put in the blender 1 cup of raw almonds that have been soaked overnight and 3 cups of water. Blend for 30 seconds and strain well.

Rice Milk

Rice milk has about the same calorie count as that of 2% milk. It is a high-carb alternative to cow’s milk and much lower in proteins compared to dairy milk. There are only 2 grams of fat per cup of rice milk and is good if you suffer from high cholesterol.

Put in the blender 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice (more nutritious than white rice) and 3 cups of water. Blend for 30 seconds and strain well.

Oat Milk

Oat milk is very low in fat. Oats have many health benefits and are best known for their high protein and fiber content and cholesterol reducing abilities. Oats are one of the superfoods mentioned in my e-book about superfoods which is part of the Natural Health Revolution Program. This program will help you to achieve your health, nutrition or weight loss goals.

Put in the blender 1 cup of rolled oats and 3 cups of water. Blend for 30 seconds and strain well.

Coconut Milk

Coconut is a nutritious food but high in calories, so use in moderation.

Put in the blender 1 cup of firmly packed ground coconut and 2 cups of water. Blend for 30 seconds to a minute, and strain the liquid using muslin (squeeze well to extract all the liquid).

Hemp Seed Milk

Hemp seeds are packed with proteins and contain all 10 essential amino acids, making them a rare plant-based food that provides complete protein. They are loaded in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as omega-6 fatty acid GLA. They are high in fiber and are rich in minerals such as magnesium, iron, zinc, and potassium.

Put in a high powered blender 1/2 cup of shelled hemp seeds and 3 cups of water. Blend for 30 seconds or until ultra smooth and strain well.

You can also read my previous article about better sources of calcium than dairy products. As for protein, you can find here surprising sources of meat free protein and many of them are lactose free as well.

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Healthy and Natural World