Some years ago, I was probably not feeling my healthiest, fittest or even lightest. I was feeling sluggish, bloated at times and a bit stressed with work and not getting enough decent sleep.
I decided to take an test to see if I was allergic or intolerant to anything and low and behold, I discovered I was allergic to yeast and intolerant to lactose. So out went the beers, Marmite and milk! After, I was trying all sorts of alternatives: soya, almond, rice, goat (in my opinion, disgusting by the way) milk but the real taste of cow’s milk was hard to find. Proper English tea with soya milk – no thanks!
So what is lactose intolerance?
This is where your body can’t digest lactose, which is a natural sugar found in dairy and milk products. When consuming dairy or milk products, the lactose travels to the large intestine (or colon) and at this stage has trouble digesting it, causing the bloating and gas. It needs an enzyme called lactase to convert this milk sugar into simple sugars that the body can use (glucose and galactose). Lactase is produced in the small intestine and if you do not produce enough of it to break down the lactose then this will cause issues with digestion.
A question of genetics and ethnicity?
In a 2002 article written in ‘American Family Physician’, noted that up to 100% Asians and Native Americans, 60%-80% blacks and 50%-80% Latinos were lactose intolerant versus up to 15% with European ancestry. In simple terms, the theory is that ancestors living in cattle breeding environments grew tolerant to milk whereas those who didn’t were more susceptible (Livestrong). So being of Chinese descent, I am predisposed to be lactose intolerant.
Looking for lactose alternatives and substitutes
Since moving to Sweden last year, I have happily discovered that Swedes are also a nation of lactose-intolerants and I am now in lactose free heaven! Most cafes and pop up coffee shops offer a lactose free milk or alternative, there are even lactose free Semlas (a yummy cardamon and almond flavoured spongy bun filled with cream, mainly served between Lent and Easter) and an array of treats for my delectation. I am absolutely rubbing my hands in glee at the thought of being able to eat proper dairy tasting items again. To make things even better there is a large freezer full of lactose free ice cream in the supermarket – brilliant!
So why are Swedes lactose intolerant?
In an article by John Hopkins Medicine the Neolithic DNA of Sweden showed 95% of those studied were lactose intolerant as opposed to 25% in modern day Sweden, hence the need for a lactose free products! An article published in ‘Discover’ magazine explains this a bit further and in more detail if you’re really interested 🙂