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Allergy Diaries : Dairy Allergies and Lactose Intolerances… The Common Misconception

In this blog we are going to be discussing dairy allergies and lactose intolerance! Often, people use these terms interchangeably, but this is not the case!

What is a dairy allergy? How is it different to lactose intolerances? What does it mean to have either of these? Read on and all your questions will be answered… 

Let’s start off by distinguishing some keywords…

Dairy: Dairy products are products that include ‘dairy’, foods that have been produced from the milk of mammals (the main examples are cow’s and goat’s milk).

Lactose: Lactose is a sugar found in milk, and therefore can be found in multiple dairy products.

Allergy: However, food allergies come about because our body registers the food that we’re eating as an ‘invader’ which activates our immune system so that chemicals such as histamines are released. It’s this reaction (the release of these chemicals) which causes symptons such as: 

  • Vomiting 
  • Swelling 
  • Breathing Problems 
  • Abdominal Pain 

But this release of chemicals can also cause anaphylaxis ( a life-threatening reaction). 

Intolerance: Intolerances result to the body not being able to properly digest food that is eaten, or that a particular food irritates the digestive system. It does not trigger an immune system response. Examples of symptoms are: 

  • Gas 
  • Cramps 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Headaches
  • Irritability 


Now that we have this basic knowledge we can tackle the common misconception : thinking that dairy-allergies and lactose-intolerance are interchangeable terms! 


Lactose Intolerance 

Dairy Allergy 


An inability to break down lactose, a sugar found in milk (as mentioned before), is the primary cause of the symptoms (such as gas, cramps, vomiting). 

What actually happens? So, lactose is meant to be broken down in your small intestine by lactase enzymes (a fancy word for molecules that help break down the sugar lactose). 

If you have lactose intolerance, you won’t have enough lactase produced in your small intestine (the break-downer) for the sugar lactose. This means your lactose is not broken down at all, so it can’t be absorbed by your body. 

The lactose (which has not been broken down) passes through to your cortex, where it mixes with bacteria and ferments, this is what causes the symptoms (gas, bloating and diarrhea).


As mentioned before, allergies involve the immune system (not just the digestive system like intolerances). 

The protein in milk triggers an immune system response, which means the body will release histamines and other chemicals to fight the proteins in milk that the body sees as a ‘foreign invader’. (The protein in cow’s milk that induces this reaction is called Casein) 

You will find that some people are allergic to specific proteins, so not all dairy products may affect them in this way (not all milks will contain the same proteins). 

Milk allergy can cause anaphylaxis, (due to the same sequence) but the symptoms can lead to a life-threatening reaction that can narrow your airways and can block breathing. 


Creative Nature Case Study: 




Hi! I’m Eshna, a food blogger, and the current Creative Nature intern. Whilst at university, I found out that I was lactose-intolerant, and (consequently) suffered several symptoms from it. Since discovering I had this intolerance, my diet has changed – I’d say it’s changed for the better ! My meals are accustomed to being completely dairy-free, and I continue to gradually introduce more and more plant-based meals into my diet. My dairy-free eating inspired me to create my own food page, as well as apply to work for Creative Nature!

My Worries: 

My main worry with my dairy intolerance concerns eating out (or rather, food that is not home-cooked). Whether I am with my friends or simply buying myself a meal to take home, my main fear is that I will unknowingly eat dairy – I dread the consequences so much I often drive myself to a point where I begin to feel anxious when I’m out and about as I can concentrate on nothing else but what I’d do if I’ve accidentally eaten dairy (even if I knew I hadn’t, the fear remains). 

TIP: In order to tame this anxiety I’ve discovered the glory in pre-planning as much as possible. Of course, there will be times when you’re going out spontaneously, but planning where you can help you immensely. I often search up menus of restaurants I know I’m going to a day before, nutritionals can and should be found on the internet, so I use this to its advantage. I also pack myself snacks before I go out, so that I don’t find myself looking to buy anything whilst I am out and about, this way I know exactly what I’m eating.


My Lifestyle:

I guess my lifestyle has changed since I pay a lot more attention to food. I am constantly on the hunt for new dairy-free products, and often stumble across some great brands (such as Creative Nature) which often taste better than original dairy products. I research food a lot more, before my intolerance I had nul nutritional knowledge and had no clue what I was feeding my body. My intolerance has pushed me to become more aware. 

TIP: If you’re transitioning to a dairy-free diet, I would suggest making this experience as fun as possible. I love following food bloggers for inspiration ; finding new alternatives for dairy (there are more and more everyday) and subscribing to food vlog channels!

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