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What's the Deal With Dairy Anyways?

You've heard it. And I've definitely heard it. "Dairy really bothers me...but it just tastes so good!" Who are all these intolerant people (dairy intolerant that is!) and why in our own families and communities do we all at least know someone with a dairy sensitivity?

In planning my menu for the upcoming Chag this very question kept popping into my head. On the eve of THE Chag where everyone has the perfect excuse to have a dairy meal, or pre-meat meal, dairy meal, it seemed quite fitting to explore further. I will also be gathering together possible alternatives for those of us with a dairy intolerance - and no, I am not referring to sticking to eating tofutti cream cheese!

In general, about 70% of Ahskenazi Jews in America are affected by lactose intolerance. People with lactose intolerance are unable to break down the sugar found in milk- lactose. In order for the body to digest dairy it needs to break down the lactose into its more simple form of glucose and galactose. Lactase is the key enzyme needed to break down lactose into its components. Typically, we have more lactase enzymes when we are born and the amount will decrease with increasing age. Simply because babies receive their main nourishment from milk! Really amazing how Hashem did that!

People with low levels of lactose or who have had an acute illness to the small intestine (this can cause the lactase enzymes to be destroyed...) are prone to developing lactose intolerance. Men and women are affected the same way by lactose intolerance. But recently I have heard, that women that are pregnant can potentially regain the ability to digest lactose. In theory, this may be since digestion is slower in pregnancy and bacteria in the intestines change which can contribute to lactose digestion - how exciting!

For those who are affected by lactose intolerance - don't fear! There are so many options for alternatives, the only challenge is to find the ones that YOU think actually taste good! I'm going to mention some of my personal favorites, but feel free to explore more and share what they are.

First, it is important to know that sheep and goats are our friends. Dairy products that are sourced from a sheep or goat (as opposed to a cow) naturally have less milk sugar (meaning less lactose) in them. So someone with a slight sensitivity might be able to tolerate sheep and goat products much easier. Furthermore, milk products with probiotics (the bacteria that's on our side!) can help aid the body in the digestion process. 

Have you ever heard of strained yogurt? Greek, Skyr (Icelandic),  and Labneh are all kinds of strained, thick, and creamy yogurt. But have you ever thought about what gets strained out? Strained yogurts are typically lower in sugar (unless of course it is a flavor where sugar is added in) because a fair majority of the lactose milk sugars have been strained out of the yogurt! As a result some people with lactose intolerance are still able to digest these products, not to mention that most contain probiotics which help the gut out in the process as well. 

Other tricks of the dairy intolerance trade are as follows:

  • Using cashews as the "other cheese." When soaked, cashews can become surprisingly creamy and can be the primary ingredient for cheese based recipes. Think cheesy noodles, lasagna, or cheese cake!
  • Utilizing Nutritional Yeast to create a cheesy flavor. Consider the possibilities when trying to make dairy-free pesto or mock-Parmesan!
  • There are plenty of "nut-mylk" options out there, just be wary of the "other" ingredients, because some brands unfortunately try to over compensate for their concern of lack of taste

I hope everyone this Chag is able to connect even more to our Torah and that your meals, whether dairy or not, leave you feeling full of all the right things, closer to Hashem, and the people at your table.

Chag Sameach & Shabbat Shalom!


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