There’s a LOT of conflicting information out there about gluten and dairy, a lot of comes from people without the proper knowledge or qualifications to be talking about, whilst a lot of it comes from credible sources, but can you to know the difference? Hopefully that’s where I come in!
When one of my clients is suffering from digestive issues and they really want to address them once and for all, then the two main foods I suggest they eliminate (usually along with many other suggestions that all work in unison with eachother) are gluten and diary.
I’ll ask them to cut these foods for about 6 weeks, to allow their gut to reset and have some ‘time off’ from having to work hard to digest 2 of the most difficult food to break down.
So you might already know that gluten and dairy aren’t all that helpful for gut health but maybe you don’t really understand why? I hope this helps to clarify it for you.
When it comes to dairy the main and most common issue is the lactose. This is the natural milk sugar found in dairy. Some people lack the enzyme needed to break this type of sugar down (lactase), and that can cause some horrible digestive trouble such as bloating, diarrhoea, nausea, and gas/flatulence. This is basically a result of the undigested lactose in the colon. Note that this is an ‘intolerance’ to NOT an allergy to dairy. A person might lack the enzyme needed to break down lactose due to their genes, or it can be a result of ageing, damage and inflammation of the small intestine or SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), which can all cause issues in producing the enzyme.
So, you might be genetically lactose intolerant or your issues with dairy might be due to poor diet (typical Western style of refined carbs and low fibre and diversity of vegetables, low healthy fats etc.), chronic stress, alcohol, infections, oral contraceptive pill medications including the oral contraceptive pill and antibiotics.
So, if your intolerance to lactose isn’t genetic then you can reverse the issue by working on your diet and lifestyle in favour of the balance of bacteria in your gut e.g. increasing the good guys and forcing out the bad guys, as well as increasing levels of digestive enzymes.
When it comes to other issues with dairy e.g. immune type reactions like eczema or hives for example, this is more likely to be due to casein which is a protein found in dairy. Immune reactions are not happening within the gut, they’re happening in the blood stream – so this means the protein casein would need to have seeped into the blood stream from the gut in order to cause the immune reaction. So the gut/intestinal wall/lining would need to be ‘leaky’ for this to happen (known as leaky gut or intestinal permeability).
If your gut lining is ‘leaky’ then things can now pass through into the blood stream that shouldn’t be allowed into your body, such as proteins like gluten and casein, bad bacteria, toxic waste and undigested foods particles. These things will cause immune reactions.
So, if you or someone you know are having immune reactions to dairy or gluten (knowingly or unknowingly) then chances are you have an imbalanced gut, because a ‘leaky gut’ is the cause, and the cause of the leaky gut is with dysbiosis (imbalanced gut bacteria) and inflammation.
This is why I don’t really do food intolerance testing, because if the gut is leaky then the test will likely show positive for a lot of different foods, and simply cutting those foods out wont actually address the cause of the problem in the first place. We need to address the leaky gut and then the reactions to certain foods will stop, unless of course its genetic lactose intolerance for example.
Immune mediated reactions to dairy might only be temporary. So, if we can rebalance and re-populate the gut environment with more beneficial bacteria and less bad guys, plus increase digestive enzymes, reduce the inflammation within the gut, and heal the gut lining then we can fix the problem.
There are some great new testing options available for gluten intolerance but as per the food intolerance testing, I would favour simply a trial removal of gluten for 4-6 weeks, whilst also working on rebalancing the gut, and then a re-introduction of gluten to see if any symptoms come back –much cheaper!!
So what are some symptoms of a dairy intolerance (whether genuine or due to an imbalanced gut)?
Well, the obvious signs would be the one’s I’ve mentioned above like bloating, diarrhoea, pain, nausea, and gas/flatulence, immune-mediated reactions to multiple foods (so not just dairy although we are talking about dairy in particular today), but also symptoms of inflammation within the entire body such as:
- Achy joints
- Fatigue (this was me in my 20’s and little did I know it was because of gluten!)
- Foggy head
- Hormonal imbalances
- Skin issues
- Weight gain and or trouble losing weight
- Water retention
- Autoimmune conditions e.g. Rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s
- Depressions and other mood changes or disorders
The most effective way in my book to find out whether or not you’d do better without gluten and or dairy would be to take them out of your diet COMPLETELY for 4 weeks.
During this work on your digestion and gut health by:
- Increasing foods that help to build up the beneficial bacteria in our gut like plenty of, and variety of, fibrous vegetables as well as fermented foods – my favourites are fermented vegetables like raw sauerkraut and kimchi, and coconut or water kefir.
- Possibly supplementing with a good quality digestive enzyme and or hydrochloric acid incase your stomach acid is low (very common!) but its important to get advice from a properly qualified Nutritional Therapist on this.
- Help the gut lining to repair and reduce inflammation of it by adding L-glutamine, homemade bone broth, and increasing foods rich in vitamin A (organic chicken or beef liver is super rich in vitamin A, then your brightly and darkly coloured fruit and veg too), zinc (good quality red meat and poultry, oysters! plus chick peas and pumpkin seeds), and turmeric, ginger, bromelain (pineapple) essential fatty acids from oily fish to help reduce inflammation.
- Rebalance your life! Address the sources of stress and how you can reduce their impact. Start getting outdoors in nature more, listen to your favourite music, have relaxing baths, read books, listen to audio books and podcasts that inspire and lift you. Don’t be a slave to your calendar, see how you can strip things back and carve out more time for yourself. Are you over-exercising? Too much of the wrong kinds of exercise can be unhelpful for digestive health and gut lining integrity so address this if you need to. Remember, a body with an unhealthy gut is a body that will struggle to burn body fat.
Then after the 4 weeks (continue with the above for life please!) start to slowly re-introduce gluten and dairy back, but do it one by one. Wait up to 72 hours to check for any symptoms before you re-introduce the other one. Keep watching for symptoms as you SLOWLY build foods back in that you feel you want to bring back in, but if you’re happy without gluten and or dairy then don’t bother bringing them back!
Butter and ghee are usually better tolerated (yay) because they have much smaller amounts of dairy proteins and sugars, same goes for fermented yoghurts and milk kefir, I would just say always go for organic to minimize hormone exposure. Hard cheese usually has less in the way of lactose whereas softer cheeses, yoghurts and milk will be higher in lactose. So, if you re-introduce dairy slowly and type by type, you’re more likely to identify certain culprits and work out whether you can still include some but maybe not all dairy, or none at all and so on.
It’s so important to work on resetting your digestive health with the above steps AND sticking to it for life even once you might re-introduce dairy and or gluten foods back in from time to time. Your gut health should be looked after ongoing not just for a short period, much the same as a detox, we should be doing things DAILY to assist our liver, not just once a year for 7 days!
My stance on gluten and dairy?
I grew up eating pasta, bread, cereal, wraps and biscuits everyday, it wasn’t until I was about 23 when I trialed a month without any gluten and it changed my health and weight that was for sure! I decided that gluten could not come back into my diet on the scale I was used to but that I didn’t want to live without it completely, I’m not celiac so why be so strict I felt. So, I personally avoid gluten for the most part, about 80% of the time, BUT I enjoy a lovely sourdough toast with a weekend cooked breakfast probably about once or twice a month, I don’t say no to a bit of cake when its offered, and I love a good quality pizza or burger out from time to time too. Compared to the amount I used to eat this is nothing, and it doesn’t cause symptoms for me because I’m just not having it often enough for it to. In terms or dairy I have cheese occasionally (when I fancy it) and my cheese of choice is mozzarella, feta and haloumi, and I use organic grass fed butter a few times a week. I use coconut or nut milks and yogurts rather than dairy, and I opt for plant-based protein powders over whey for daily use with the occasional use of (organic) whey protein powder (I use Pulsin), I’m by no means neurotic about anything when it comes to food and nor should you be.
Dairy, your hormonal health and your weight:
So we’ve talked about dairy and your gut health but dairy can also cause or exacerbate hormonal imbalances, which isn’t good news for our waistlines or health.
Dairy can increase a hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and sometimes also other growth hormones and antibiotics (usually found in non-organic dairy hence why I always say to go for organic if having. If you have hormonal issues or conditions such as acne or PCOS then I would suggest reducing or eliminating dairy as much as possible for this reason, you just don’t need to be adding any more fuel to the fire. Dairy is quite what’s known as ‘insulinogenic’ which means it has the ability to spike our insulin levels rather high and this is thought to be due to the amount of lactose (milk sugar) as well as the dairy proteins. Any foods that spike insulin can cause the storage of fat around the middle, so just something to be aware of if you’re relying on dairy every single day and struggling with your weight.
A lot of people ask me about calcium when we talk about reducing or cutting out dairy. I get a lot of concerned faces asking how will they get enough! Do not fret, there are PLENTY of foods that contain calcium and some even more so than milk. Its just long been drummed into us that milk is the only good source of it.
Here’s a list of calcium foods and the amount per (very achievable) portion size (the recommended daily calcium intake is 700mg):
- 1 cup of cooked kale – 245 mg
- 56g of sardines (with bones) – 217 mg
- 170ml or grams of natural organic yogurt or milk kefir – 300 mg
- 1 ½ cup cooked broccoli – 93 mg
- 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds (throw into a smoothie) – 87.8 mg
- 1 cup of watercress 41 mg
- 1 spinach leaf – 9.9 mg
- 30g of cheese 224 mg
- 1 cup of bok Choy 74 mg
- 1 cup of okra 82 mg
- 30g of almonds (about 23 almonds) 76 mg
So there you have it I really hope this has been helpful! I know this was a LONG one so I hope you didn’t drift off and you managed to stick with me.
Jump on a call with me and we can discuss you biggest challenges when it comes to your health and weight, and or gluten and dairy questions! I offer complimentary 40 minute phone sessions so why not take advantage? Click here to book your slot.