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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Going Dairy Free | Living with an Intolerance

Jamie Oliver's Epic Vegan Cake
I've wanted to write a post about this for quite some time, as I've been struggling with this for the past 8 months. Over the past two years I've suffered from bad stomach pains, bloat, and nausea. It comes and goes and then comes back in full I-need-a-week-off-work force. This is going to be a long one, so go grab yourself a drink to sit down with ;)

Last year, I suffered from a bad stomach infection called H-Pylori. It attacks the stomach lining and also the intestines. Having accidentally left my antibiotics at work, I didn't complete the full course so I don't think the infection ever truly went away. Just after Christmas 2015, my stomach pain came back following a heavy few weeks of eating and scoffing chocolate. I've always suffered from bloating and sometimes have bad reactions after eating but never before had I thought I might have an intolerance of some kind. 

In the January, after another visit to the doctors, more antibiotics, and continued stomach pain, I returned to my GP and came to the conclusion that it definitely wasn't an infection this time. But it may well have been a trigger. Sent off for more blood tests, they concluded that it wasn't coeliacs or another infection. The only way for me to find out which food was causing me this pain, was to follow an exclusion diet. 

For two months, I went completely gluten and dairy free - cold turkey - the two most common triggers for stomach pain. This was hard. No cake, no bread, basically nothing! It was horrible. I gave in one day and had a Galaxy Ripple.. I know.. so bad. But I reacted almost immediately in crippling pain. I then tried a piece of bread. No reaction at all. By doing this exclusion diet, I was able to work out that it was dairy I was intolerant to, rather than gluten.  No more chocolate :'( Although, I do still bloat from gluten - but I think everyone does to an extend!

Another flare up later, (with the cause unbeknownst to me, as I'd not eaten dairy) I was back at the GP, complaining that it wasn't just dairy this time.. but anything that entered my stomach. No infection, no known cause. IBS? IBD? Who knows. A couple blood tests later and they think I might actually have IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease) or Crohn's Disease. I know right.. just my luck.

For now, I am still cutting out dairy and living with the constant pain, I'm waiting until my consultant appointment in October to come around so I can find out exactly what is causing this pain and whether I do actually have Crohn's. 

Okay so that's my back story out the way... 

In terms of actually living a dairy free life, it's had its struggles, particularly with my sweet tooth. I crave chocolate daily, long for some yummy cake and feel left out a lot of the time not being able to eat the same as everyone else.  The 2 months of exclusion was the hardest, but once I knew it was dairy, or at least a main factor to my problems, it got a little easier. 

Along with gluten intolerances, people don't quite realise just how much there is out there for intolerances and allergies in the supermarkets. Free From aisles are huge these days, but you don't even have to go to them! Just look at ingredients lists, you'll be amazed to find out actually what is in your food. You don't need to eat 'special' meals, you can actually eat the same, just with some replacements! Brands like Koko, Alpro and Violife are great alternatives.

For butter, milk, chocolate etc, there's always alternatives - dairy free spread, soya/coconut/almond milk, dark chocolate (60%+) and even alternatives for cheese, yoghurts etc! You'd be amazed with the product choice, you just need to look!

Things like sausages, ham, ready meals etc, you need to be careful with as they are often full of dairy. Pies, pizza and things that are coated in batter; unless made from scratch, are things you need to stay away from, as pretty much all will have dairy in!

Eating out is another difficult factor when having allergies or intolerances. Places like Pizza Express for example, despite catering for gluten free, they literally only have one option that is dairy free, whereas Prezzo has a few more. With Italian restaurants, it's quite hard as everything has cheese on! KFC - just stay away, there's no point. McDonalds, you can ask for it without the cheese, you can have chicken selects etc. just not nuggets or the fish. I literally have about 20 restaurants' allergy menus at home to quickly look through before eating out. It's worth doing this so you don't have to suffer the awkwardness of having to ask to see it when you're there. I get really annoyed when restaurants don't offer this menu or say 'I don't think so' when I ask if there's any dairy in something. Restaurants SHOULD know their ingredients, if not, don't be afraid to ask to see the packet it comes from.. 'cummon, we all know chain restaurants don't cook fresh!

When faced with the 'I don't know' response, I always say 'well I need you to know, as you'll be responsible for my death if there is some dairy in this.' Obviously way over dramatic as I'm only intolerant, not allergic, but its good to keep them on their feet, and actually go make them find out if there's something in the ingredients list you can't have. Realistically, they're usually too lazy to go and ask. So make sure they're certain. If they're not, ask to speak to a chef or ask them to get the packaging so you can find out yourself. 

Avoiding cakes and chocolate is probably the hardest, as they're just so yummy. I try and make it up to myself by baking dairy free cakes and eating dark chocolate - which I've now developed a taste for.   Here's a great site for dairy free recipes, and Jamie Oliver has some pretty good ones too, including this yummy chocolate cake pictured above!

Probably the silver lining to all this - I'm eating so much healthier, preparing more meal from scratch and discovering new flavours, new tastes and new meals to make. Going dairy free needn't be harsh on your bank, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. You can buy raw ingredients and normal food, so long as you check the ingredients first. My weekly shop is around £40-50 for two of us, including lots of meat, fish, veg and treats of course, so its easy! Just hard on your cravings.

All in all you don't need to worry if this is happening to you, and if it is, or has, you're not alone!

Are you intolerant to anything? How've you found your change in eating habits? Any great recipe suggestions for me to try out?
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