Previously published on LeftLion.
Fancy a cheeky takeaway after a night of partying? Nope. How about some cheese on toast? Being a student and suffering with lactose intolerance can be tough.
You’ve just moved to a strange city, eager to start your course and meet new people– then the discomfort starts. You make a terrible discovery–you’re lactose-intolerant.
All the ‘student foods’ are denied to you. No pizza or cheeky takeaway, not unless you want to spend the next day in bed, curled up in pain. While people tend to accept the inevitable Sunday in bed due to a hangover, doubling up on pain because you treated yourself to a portion of chips and cheese seems both unnecessary and unfair.
I arrived at Nottingham University feeling ready to challenge everything; ideas, people and myself. I joined several societies, and despite plenty of late nights, I went to all my lectures.
Late nights and early mornings meant tea, hot chocolate and frequent trips to get milk, but when I started to feel ill throughout the day, I couldn’t work out why.
My symptoms slowly increased. I would be in pain after meals, and I suffered embarrassing symptoms. I prayed my flat mates weren’t around during the bad times and had no idea why they were happening to me.
Finally, I was diagnosed with lactose intolerance. But what was the cause? Why was I suddenly affected? My doctor and I have no idea. The new stresses of university life could have done it. Anxiety can cause IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and lactose intolerance. I only know that when I took lactose out of my diet, these symptoms went away almost immediately.
Apparently, one in five people have lactose intolerance and don’t even know about it. In these cases symptoms are so mild that the sufferer hardly notices their discomfort (lucky them.) The NHS defines lactose intolerance as; “A common digestive problem where the body is unable to digest lactose, a type of sugar mainly found in milk and dairy products.” This can cause nausea, stomach pain or discomfort, flatulence and diarrhoea. Some people are affected more than others and can eat foods with milk as long as it has been processed or cooked, others not so much.
As I said, I am a student and therefore I require some encouragement while I work. For me this means an incentive of a snack for finishing a page, and even as I write this piece, I have sweets at my side- promised to me once I reach a certain number of words. Now I’ve had to cut out the lactose though, I’ve switched my butter and other dairy products to soya based variants, or I avoid things altogether. Before the swap I had no idea why I felt queasy during the day. Biscuits and baked goods contain butter, ergo milk. So my regular elevenses of tea and biscuits have changed. Soy milk and ‘own brand’ biscuits seem to be the safest option for me now– and I’ve learnt from my mistakes to always check the label.
Semi-skimmed milk powder is my nemesis, lurking in the small print, trying to catch me out. Just because it’s powdered does not mean the lactose is gone. It’s in everything! Luckily, supermarkets have a quick and easy ‘allergy’ tag on most of their products. If ‘milk’ is listed there, then I know it’s not okay for me to eat. If the product isn’t something I’ve had before, I check the ingredients list- just to make sure, but to do that with every item you buy on a weekly shop and your eyes will soon get tired.
However, there has never been a better time to be lactose intolerant. There are all sorts of ‘free’ foods. Soy and lactose-free milk and cheeses are available in most supermarkets.and ‘free’ chocolate and ready-meals are here! Bring out your dead recipes and revive them, for the milky revolution is upon us!
Sometimes you can’t check the label, though. I forget to ask for soy milk a lot and have to ask for a swap (and because soy milk lasts longer than regular milk, it’s often less than fresh) I’ve become a much better chef, riddling out exactly what would go into a meal in a restaurant. Sure, I like vegetarian options, but they aren’t always as nice, and sometimes cheese is unavoidable. But there are alternatives to discomfort. If you do find yourself caught short, ask your doctor about Lactase – an enzyme pill which breaks down lactose. If you are in a restaurant and the only tasty option contains milk, throw one down and wait for your meal.
Allergies and intolerances are becoming ‘more common’ as people are more aware of their symptoms and the possible causes of them. Becoming more aware doesn’t mean suffering more though, with a little planning and armed with the right information, you can eat a healthy, well balanced diet, that doesn’t make you feel horrendous. The future of food for those with lactose intolerance is a lot brighter, and tastier, for everyone.