At the risk of grossing you out, let me start with a personal story. The advantage of starting like this is that the gross stuff will then be out of the way early. Mostly.

I’m lactose intolerant. And in 1999, I nearly died trying to ascertain if I am. Or so it seemed at the time. I was bloated, burpy, crampy, nauseated, and spent 2 days in the bathroom trying not to keel over from the noxious odours my body was spewing between bouts of vomiting. Right, I’m done.

I’m the most severely lactose intolerant, lactase-deficient person I know of. Paneer is my kryptonite. If you hate me, you can tell me it’s tofu and then; Watch. Me. Die. Or at least writhe in agony as my system struggles to digest the milk sugar you’ve just poisoned me with – helpless to break it down since I am missing the enzyme that the rest of you have in some quantity. In most people, the enzyme lactase breaks down the milk sugar lactose into the component sugars: glucose and galactose. In my case, this doesn’t happen.

The offending dairy will travel down my gut at a glacial pace, rotting inside my intestines, not being absorbed. In about three days, my nausea will subside and my head will stop pounding, give or take a day.

As children, most of us produce the lactase enzyme, but as we get older it decreases. Europeans may see a 5 percent reduction, while in Africa and Asia, populations demonstrate up to 90 percent drop in lactase production.

Are you lactose intolerant? The most accurate way to find out is to through a blood test, a stool acidity test, or a hydrogen breath test. The sad thing is you have to ingest some amount of lactose to see a result. Or you can use my method from 1999: observation! Drink two glasses of milk first thing in the morning, after fasting at least 10 hours. If you spend the rest of the day (or week) in the loo, tag, you’re it!

Most people usually figure out their threshold once they start paying attention to the symptoms. Nausea? Headache? Bloating, gas, cramping? Running to the loo? Can’t go to the loo at all? Yup, any combination of these could be caused by milk.

Everyone in my mother’s family is lactose intolerant to some degree. What does that mean? It means my aunt can have about 4 cups of tea with milk in her day but if she has a few spoons of ice cream at night, it’s curtains for her. So if she knows it’s ice cream for dessert, she’ll have to limit her milk intake during the day.

What do you need to know? For one, it’s incurable.

Two: it’s a racial profiling thing. Asians are more likely to be lactose intolerant than Caucasians.

Three: You can work around it.

Some dairy is lactose free: Yogurt is lactose free (the bacteria have already converted lactose into digestible galactose). Ghee is lactose free. Hard cheeses are easier to digest: Parmesan and Jarlsburg may have no lactose, but mozzarella is definitely not your friend. And finally, in America and Europe, where only 50 million adults are lactose intolerant, they make and sell the lactase enzyme. My friends and family in the US are constantly carting me tablets that I can then swallow with my first morsel of risotto to avoid horrid indigestion.

So, you can beat this one, but you definitely cannot lick it. And if you want to trade lactose intolerance stories, hey, I can probably outdo you, so, bring them on.

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