Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Not So Dairy Queen

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Sigh, I do love myself some cheese.  A nice creamy brie, particularly if it's been baked en croute; a good sharp Cheddar; and oh goat cheese, how do I love you.  But alas, our affair can be no more.  After dealing with digestive issues off and on for about a year, I finally made an appointment with my doctor this last summer.  I had a strong suspicion that I knew what the problem was, I just didn't want to admit it, and then she confirmed my fear "you're probably lactose intolerant".  In order to be sure though, she advised me to cut out all dairy for a week or so to see if I felt better.  If that didn't work I could come back and talk about other potential causes. 

So I did as told and completely cut out all dairy successfully for about two weeks.  The difference was dramatic, I felt so much better and no longer experienced digestive discomfort.  I was shocked at how quickly I was able to feel the difference.  Unfortunately, though, this meant that the diagnosis I had dreaded was accurate, I had developed lactose intolerance.  (After reading some articles I have discovered this may not be that uncommon in adult women.)

So now, faced with this new truth about my body, I have been trying to figure out the best ways to adapt my diet.  Why oh why does something I love so much have to cause so much pain and discomfort?  Luckily, after doing some online research I've discovered that there are still some dairy items I can, or might be able to, eat without issue.  First, I learned that Greek yogurt is A.OK because of the cultures, but unfortunately frozen yogurt not so much.  Additionally, harder, aged cheeses tend to have lower levels of lactose and therefore are less likely to cause an issue than say a fresh whole milk mozzarella (bye bye my beloved caprese salads).  Through trial and error I have so far determined that I can handle small amounts of parmesan, however provolone is definitely not in the cards for me.  I have also made the decision to switch to almond milk for my cereal, a change I surprisingly liked.

Figuring out what dairy items I can and cannot enjoy has been quite an experience, and has not been easy.  In fact, I have to admit that after about 2 months of really trying to be careful about what went into my mouth at each meal, I started getting lazy and sloppy.  I reasoned that, well, it's not like the lactose is going to kill me.  I just have to be willing to accept the uncomfortable consequences that go along with it, and sometimes the cheese is worth the discomfort.  This is not a healthy frame of mind, though; sure, the lactose isn't going to kill me, but I should value my body enough to respect when it's telling me that something isn't working.

I need recognize that I am lucky, there are people suffering from conditions such as Crohn's that wish it was just lactose intolerance.  I have a simple solution to my problem, so I need to take charge and actually do the work to weed the negative products out of my diet.  And that right there folks seems to be the issue for me, cutting out dairy (or specifically dairy containing lactose) is work, or at least for me it's work. 

I am so used to being able to generally eat whatever I want, I had no food allergies or anything growing up.  If I didn't want to eat meat or dairy at a particular meal, fine, but I could limit that decision to when I felt like it and I only needed a small number of recipes to accommodate those days.  If I found a recipe I really wanted to try I didn't have to think twice about whether it called for cheese or milk or not.  I do really prefer to eat limited amounts of meat, so over several years I have cultivated a wide range of tried and true vegetarian recipes, however virtually all of them rely on some form of dairy for flavor.  So now, I feel like I am starting from scratch.  Cooking without meat has become easy (I am not a full vegetarian however, I simply eat limited amounts of meat), but I now need to learn to make dairy-free cooking just as easy.  Unfortunately, now many of my go-to recipes can no longer be in rotation, at least not without modifications.  This means I have to put a lot more thought into meal planning.  Until living without dairy becomes second nature I can't just go to the grocery store and figure things out there, everything related to my meals will have to be thought and planned out ahead of time, which will require significant effort on my part.

I know what I need to do, I just need to actually do it.  I need to take the time to plan out all meals a week at a time.  I need to reevaluate my pantry to ensure that I have it stocked to be friendly for a no-dairy household.  I need to make the effort to find and try out new recipes, and I need to experiment to determine which current recipes can be modified.  I need to do a lot, and it will be work, and it does feel daunting but it is necessary to ensure my body is healthy.  So as I make progress with this process I promise to share any great recipes I come across, or maybe even create on my own, as well as any tips I learn to make such a complete dietary overhaul easier.  Oh, and if anyone has a good vegan pizza recipe (not using soy cheese) please, please, pass it along!  Pizza is something I don't want to have to give up on completely.

Are any of you struggling with late in life dietary changes?  Was it as hard to modify your diet as it seems to be for me?

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