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Myth: Dairy is bad to consume because our bodies aren’t made to digest lactose.

TRUTH:  Not made to digest lactose, huh?  Well, there are only 3 basic sugar molecules that comprise all of the simple sugars and complex carbohydrates that we can digest to derive energy.  They are:

  1. Glucose – contained by most carbohydrates
  2. Fructose – fruit sugars
  3. Galactose – sugar in dairy and sugar beets (combines with glucose to form lactose)

As babies, we naturally derive all of our nutrients by ingesting lactose via breastfeeding.  Our bodies are definitely made to digest milk sugars.

‘So is lactose intolerance BS?’  No, absolutely not.  After 4 years old, some humans begin to lose the ability to digest lactose; nature didn’t intend for us to breastfeed forever, and certainly not from cows.  Lactose intolerance occurs when someone lacks the enzyme to breakdown lactose, but it’s not an allergy.  It’s more common as you age, in persons of non-European decent, and in premature infants.  Taking a lactase supplement (the enzyme that digests lactose) may be effective to reduce the symptoms of lactose intolerance.

BOTTOM LINE:  Low fat and fat free dairy is a great source of calcium and protein.  Some people have trouble digesting lactose, but the human body is very capable of digesting it and using milk sugars as energy.  If you experience vomiting or bloating after consuming dairy, you should see a physician.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

  1. FDA Consumer Health Information: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/UCM143705.pdf
  2. National Institute of Health: Lactose Intolerance: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/lactoseintolerance/

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4 Comments to "Myth: Dairy is bad to consume because our bodies aren’t made to digest lactose."

  1. Kathe says:

    Your point about the basic monomers is true but the complex polymers which make up milk need specialized enzymes to break them down into those monomers. The gene to digest lactose as adults is actually a very recent (past few thousand years) mutation which seems to have been selected for in Northern Europe[1]. It’s thought that the ability to digest dairy gave some adults a reproductive advantage because they had an additional calorie source in an environment that didn’t offer many calories.

    Most people AREN’T adapted to consume dairy as adults but those of us with Northern Europe genes likely are. It’s actually a fascinating study in evolution.

    [1] Harvey, etal. Lactase haplotype frequencies in Caucasians: association with the lactase persistence/non-persistence polymorphism. Annals of Human Genetics (1998)

  2. Kate Gardner says:

    Thanks for all the additional info, Kathe – this is great! However, it’s not confirmed that most people can’t have dairy. It’s not a part of the diet of many cultures (i.e. Japanese or Chinese cuisine), though there’s a lot of cooking with yogurt in the middle east and much of Europe. It should also be noted that many people who can’t tolerate milk, cheese, or cream can often tolerate yogurt.

  3. Kathe says:

    Here is a more general science article. http://www.cambridge.org/us/books/kiple/lactose.htm
    Of particular note is this line: Lactase persistence is uncommon in Africans, Asians, southern Europeans, and the indigenous populations of the Americas and the Pacific.

    I still maintain that dairy is a non-ideal food for much of the worlds population.

  4. Kate Gardner says:

    You are absolutely allowed to disagree! I welcome opposing viewpoints and appreciate your posting. I do think though, that there is much more research available than the studies from the 80′s and early 90′s cited in that article. Nonetheless, dairy is a great source of protein, calcium, and vitamin D for those who choose to consume it.

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