Does lactose intolerance mean you’re done with dairy? And if you’re sick, should you skip your morning glass of milk? The answer to both may surprise you!
Let’s take a quick look at the truth behind two common dairy myths:
MYTH #1: If You’re Lactose Intolerant, You Can Say Goodbye to Dairy Forever
To be clear, lactose intolerance is a very real scientific condition, not a myth. And we shouldn’t confuse lactose intolerance with dairy allergies: a milk allergy is a body’s reaction to the protein, and that can be a serious medical condition, while lactose intolerance is a reaction to the milk sugar, which can be uncomfortable but is ultimately not life threatening. But the notion that lactose intolerance means saying goodbye forever to milk, cheese, and ice cream is not exactly true.
In fact, studies have found that even people with diagnosed lactose intolerance can digest up to 12 grams of lactose in one sitting. Granted, if you don’t have dairy for a long time, you can lose the ability to digest larger quantities of it (as is the case for many things), but you can still rebuild that tolerance to the point where you can enjoy a cup of milk, a scoop of ice cream, or even a few slices of pizza.
“One of the things I’ll hear is people saying, ‘Oh, I can’t really tolerate pizza,’” says Erin Coffield, Vice President of Health and Wellness Communications at the National Dairy Council. “(But) most cheeses are pretty low in lactose. Often times, if you have a higher fat meal, it also can cause digestive discomfort, so in some of those cases, it may be more of an issue of serving size than of dairy itself.”
Lastly, lactose intolerance is a very individualized condition, so what one person can tolerate may be very different from what others can tolerate. And if someone ultimately feels like they can’t stomach any amount, there is also lactose-free milk.
MYTH #2: You Should Avoid Dairy if You’re Sick, Because it Increases Your Body’s Mucus Production
Maybe your grandma told you to skip the milk when you have a cold, or your choir teacher instructed you to cut out dairy the week before the big show. But as good as their intentions were, there’s no actual scientific evidence to support the claims that dairy increases mucus production or triggers asthma—just folklore and old wives’ tales.
“In looking at the body of research available, the science does not indicate that dairy increases mucus production or is related to asthma,” says Coffield. “It seems to be more related to the occurrence of the common cold.”
So, despite what some opera singers might say, there is no scientific connection between dairy and mucus production.
One potential source of the myth? “If you want to speculate as to why people may perceive this, fuller fat dairy foods can leave a feeling of coating your tongue,” says Coffield. “So maybe people are mistaking that for mucus production?”