Foodie Fridays #1: Life Without Lactose

As a lover of cheese and chocolate, the initial symptoms of lactose intolerance were swiftly ignored and passed off as coincidence, but as time went on the symptoms became more frequent and the consequences more uncomfortable; my lactose intolerance was undeniable.

Which one would you miss most, pizza or chocolate cake? Slide to reveal!

The Moment The Toffee Penny Dropped.

As a teenager I had started to notice a few stomach cramps after eating certain foods. It wasn’t constant, with months in between instances at times, but as time went by they became a little more frequent and so I decided to bite the bullet and eliminate different ingredients to work out what it was that was causing the discomfort. I tried everything else I could think of – chilli, garlic, red meat, chicken and wheat to name a few – and had no success in identifying the problem.

I begrudgingly decided that the only thing left to try was eliminating dairy products from my diet for a couple of weeks. Almost instantly on day 1 the discomfort stopped and didn’t return once over the 2 weeks. To test my theory, I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich. Never had I been so unhappy to prove a theory correct, and locate the cause of a problem!

Now at this point in life my symptoms of lactose intolerance were mild in comparison to where they are now;

  • Tiredness – feeling more tired than usual after eating high lactose foods
  • Mild stomach ache – I wouldn’t describe them as cramps at this point, but definitely discomfort.
  • Bloating – visible bloating of my stomach after eating high lactose foods
  • Excess Gas – linked to the bloating… that gas builds up and then needs to be released!

Due to them being relatively mild, I came to accept these symptoms of lactose intolerance and proceeded to eat cheese and chocolate and everything in between!

Until the curious incident of the mini egg in the night time…

Sweet Dreams Aren’t Made Of Cheese.

Well, not for me anyway!

I had to have surgery on my spine in late summer 2019, and as part of my post op care I was prescribed some super strength antibiotics. The kind that make you feel poorly every time you take them and completely ruin your appetite!

Having not considered lactose intolerance for a few years, I planned to return to eating as usual after my course of antibiotics. I went to the cinema one Thursday evening in early September, and as is my ritual I decided to buy a large pot of overpriced pick n mix sweets – mixed penny candy for those Stateside! I chose all my favourites, including copious amounts of mini eggs.

Now for those who don’t know what mini eggs are – they are a hard candy shell encasing a milk chocolate egg. Yes, milk chocolate. For those struggling to picture them, here they are in all their glory…

So in to the movie theatre we go, and as soon as I hit the seat I am throwing sweets in to my mouth and drinking my extortionately priced Pepsi Max without a care in the world. This is my first time in the cinema in over a year so I am excited and making the most of it.

Am I feeling a little sick from the sugar? Sure.

Am I going to slow down? Hell no!

For anyone wondering the film was Good Boys. From what I remember of it, funny in parts and a little slow in others – however I must admit my concentration wasn’t at it’s best. About 10 minutes in I started to feel my stomach cramping. Insisting to myself that it wasn’t the sweets, I carried on eating them until mid crunch it dawned on me… mini eggs. Chocolate. Lactose.

As a young and normally well mannered Englishman, I feel uncomfortable getting up in the middle of a film to use the toilet and disturbing other people on my way past – they have paid good money to see the movie. However more importantly I think I should add at this point that I have a fear of using public toilets for anything other than a wee.

This fear is partly on hygienic grounds, but it is more the uncomfortability of other people being near by and having use of the same toilet. When I say public toilets, I mean pretty much any toilet except my own and a very small group of privileged toilets. Needless to say of which, the local cinema is not one.

Back to the action… there I am, sat in the cinema, stomach cramps getting progressively worse, the gargling noises becoming ever louder. I am starting to sweat at this point with fear of the impending situation. The official run time of the movie is 90 minutes, however I strongly dispute the time keeper on this one.

After what felt like an eternity, the credits finally started rolling. It was go time – although not too quickly for fear of slippage – I slalomed through the exiting crowds. Squat jogging to keep my glutes tight together, I jumped in the car and proceeded to drive back like my life, or at least the upholstery of my car, depended on it. I got to my driveway and had to exit the car, throw the keys to my partner to park up, whilst I headed straight for the toilet, hurdling obstacles like a prime Kriss Akabusi. I made it to the toilet with milliseconds to spare. As I lowered myself to the seat, the flood gates opened.

It was at this point I could no longer deny my truth – it wasn’t just symptoms of lactose intolerance, I am lactose intolerant. Full stop.

Un-brie-lievable.

All joking aside, accepting that I could no longer eat food containing lactose was a pretty tough thing to come to terms with. I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but it really is hard! Especially when your favourite foods are now super strength laxatives (although much cheaper, I must admit).

The hardest part is the painstaking task of checking the ingredients list on everything you buy. There are so many products that contain lactose that you would think would be fine. Some of the sneakier diarrhoea inducing consumables are;

  • Salt & Vinegar Pringles – some flavours are lactose free… but not salt and vinegar. Why? Who knows. It is listed as a ‘flavouring’ and appeared when MSG was removed. Whether it is to help the flavour bind to the crisp, or to enhance the flavour, I have no idea. There are lactose free flavours, but check the label carefully!
  • White Bread – not all white bread contains milk – but when they do, it hits… hard. In my experience it is normally the cheaper white bread that contains milk.
  • Processed Meat – so the explanation on this one is that lactose and casein is often added to processed meat as an emulsifier to enhance the flavour. Again, it’s not all processed meat, but its a good excuse to avoid the cancerous sodium filled aisle at the supermarket.
  • Quorn – when you think of vegan food, especially if you are in the UK, you probably think of Quorn right? Well, wrong. Almost none of the Quorn brand is vegan, either due to the presence of eggs or milk. So not only does it taste vile, it makes me shit myself too. Its a lose / lose situation.
  • Other vegetarian or meat free brands / products – Quorn aren’t the only ones. There are a number of great tasting meat free products! However a number of them also contain lactose. Unfortunately I found out through trial and error… Get checking those labels!

So these are the ones to avoid, but what about the ones to gravitate towards?

In Queso Emergencies:

Sometimes all you want is that lactose riddled product, be it a cup of tea, a chocolate bar, a cheese board or a free choice of crisp flavours, you just want that milky hit without the guaranteed symptoms of lactose intolerance. Well I have you covered!

Here are my top lactose-free products to replace your favourites;

Milk (and chocolate milk) – Oatly Barista (& Oatly Chocolate)

It took me a while to find milk that was anywhere near good enough as an alternative to the real thing for coffee. But fear not, I martyred myself so you don’t have to. Make sure you buy the Oatly Barista for coffee and cereal – it is creamy and is genuinely better than the real stuff. Make sure you give it a shake to get the barista style froth on top of your coffee. Give it a go – you won’t go back to cows milk afterwards!

For any chocolate milk lovers – Oatly Oat Drink Chocolate. Again, make sure you shake it well before use. Fancy a hot chocolate? Stick it in the microwave for 45 seconds. You are welcome!

Word of warning – do not use Oatly Barista in your cup of tea, it is not good at all! I am reliably informed cashew milk is the way to go for any tea lovers.

Butter – Flora ProActiv Buttery

I have always loved copious amounts of butter spread on to my toast for breakfast. I have also always hated margarine (does anyone like it?).

I have had a few false starts with butter alternatives. Flora buttery was my first go to, until they changed the recipe and added buttermilk! But I have found one even better than that – even closer to the real thing. Flora ProActiv Buttery is a brilliant alternative and helps to lower cholesterol too… healthy and lactose free? WINNER!

Biscuits – Bourbon Creams

A lot of biscuits are milk free, however some of the classics are off limits if you are needing to avoid lactose. However there are a few surprises in there. The new Chocolate Chip Hobnobs are lactose free, as are the regular Hobnobs.

My number 1 winner in this category has to be the Bourbon Cream. A staple of the biscuit barrel in any UK household – the chocolate sandwich biscuit is lactose free!! Don’t ask too many questions about the cream filling, just be happy that it doesn’t contain lactose and move on…

Chocolate – Nomo

This is a controversial one, and I am sure people will disagree… but I find most lactose free “milk” chocolate to taste really bad. It is Hershey style sweet with very little flavour, and often doesnt melt in the mouth like proper milk chocolate does.

Nomo as an entire brand is an exception to this. I am yet to have a flavour I don’t love. My favourite flavour? Caramel Chocolate. This caramel filled bar is a dream! Notable mention to their Caramel & Sea Salt bar (this one is solid rather than caramel filled).

Takeaway Pizza – Papa John’s

Even in my lactose consuming days, I came to be a strong believer that big Papa J’s was the ultimate of the chain pizza joints. Well when it comes to lactose free options, they are in a league of their own! They have a range of vegan pizzas, or you can make your own meat topped pizza with vegan cheese so you aren’t forced to eat vegan just because you can’t have lactose.

Lactose free cheese in general is relatively crap. I have tried a number of options and I have not been very impressed at all. There are some brilliant vegan mozzarella options for pizza toppings, but other than that I would be cautious.

I asked at the top of this post which you would miss most, the pizza or the chocolate cakes? The answer is neither. They are both lactose free alternatives!

If you have any suggestions of lactose free alternatives, particularly cheeses, let me know in the comments below!

Have a good ‘un guys!

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