Gluten and Dairy

Both gluten allergies and dairy allergies are dietary concerns for many. They are both forms of food intolerance. Problems with gluten and dairy are handled with gluten-free or lactose-free diets, types of ‘exclusion diets’.

Gluten allergies are generally food allergies, although some people are sensitive to just touching gluten. Gluten allergy is not the same as coeliac disease, another digestive disorder. The treatment of gluten allergy and coeliac disease is the same, a gluten-free diet. The two involve inflammation and immune response of mast cells in the gut, so the two disorders are often associated and confused with one another. Gluten allergies manifest themselves in the form of nausea, hives, and eczema.

Those affected by gluten allergies often have to exclude all forms of gluten from their diets. Gluten comes from grains and is present and abundant in breads and pastas. It also shows up in gravies, sauces, soups and other foods that are thickened with wheat. Even meat products like sausages contain additives like butcher’s rusk, which comes from grain and has a high gluten content. This makes it difficult to easily remove all gluten from a diet, but more and more retailers and restaurants are offering gluten free options. Alternatives to grain flour include corn, potato, almond, and tapioca flours.

There is no labeling system in place for gluten free foods in America or many other countries currently. Creating a system of labeling is tricky because many foods that would otherwise have a very low gluten content become contaminated when they are processed or transferred, so simple ingredients lists don’t paint a clear picture of gluten content. Most foods that are milled pick up a decent amount of grain residue and gluten, making them intolerable for those with allergies.

Dairy allergies generally aren’t technically allergies, but an enzyme deficiencies called lactose intolerance. In individuals with lactose intolerance, their bodies can’t digest lactose sugar predominantly found in dairy products. Lactose intolerance symptoms include digestive problems like flatulence, diarrhea, gas, and vomiting. Symptoms can range from very mild to severe. Some lactose intolerances may be a cause of irritable bowel syndrome.

It is fairly straightforward to avoid dairy products, since they are clearly enumerated on ingredient labels, and many products have special labeling that includes whether or not the product contains nuts, soy, or dairy. Soy, almond, and rice milk drinks can all serve as stand-ins for dairy milk. It is usually the case that those with lactose intolerances can handle a little dairy in their diets, so avoiding milk in all its forms is not necessary. In addition, cultured milk products like yogurt and cheese usually don’t affect individuals with lactose intolerance like plain milk does.

Both gluten and dairy allergies are thought to exist for the same kind of reasons. For the majority of human existence, we didn’t drink milk after the time when we were weaned. For this reason, adult humans didn’t have enzymes to break down milk like babies do. In populations that raised cows, sheep, and goats it was advantageous to be able to digest milk, and enzyme activity was retained into adulthood. It is still the case that for about 75 percent of people in the world the ability to break down lactose is decreased to some extent as we age. Similarly, farming was only developed about 10,000 years ago, and so many humans may not be well equipped to digest the grains that are (evolutionarily) recently introduced to our diet. Lactose free and gluten free diets have become popular even in those without a diagnosed condition based on the idea that it is easier on our digestive systems to avoid these foods we weren’t ‘designed’ to eat, although there is little scientific evidence that these steps are beneficial to health.


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