When your gut says no to dairy

Author: Siobhan Martin  

A personal experience with lactose intolerance.

The first time I ever had Yum Cha, I was in Singapore, in the early Nineties. My boyfriend’s parents had treated us to the traditional Chinese brunch where you choose delectable morsels from a trolley wheeled around a restaurant by well-dressed waiters.

The food, needless to say, was excellent, and I still have the photos commemorating the occasion. I look completely stuffed to the gills and replete – if a little peaky.

I do remember feeling a little unwell, but put it down to Singapore’s tropical heat, and perhaps one to many egg custard tarts for dessert.

Three hours later, back at my boyfriend’s house, I was throwing it all up.

I returned to Australia, still feeling the worse for wear. In fact, I kept feeling nauseous, getting stomach cramps and feeling generally unwell. This was more than just food poisoning – I wasn’t getting any better.

Eventually, I was given a diagnosis of Giardiasis, a parasitic gut infection. But even after I was treated, the stomach cramps and nausea continued.

Finally, about six months after I’d returned home, I was diagnosed with lactose intolerance. The bug I’d picked up in Singapore had wiped out my gut flora – essential for gut health as it helps digest and absorb nutrients – and left me unable to produce lactase. Lactase is the enzyme that breaks down lactose, the sugar in dairy products. Hence, lactose intolerance.

My mother, who was trying to feed me up, was left in despair. Cheese, milk and cream were out. Even a slice of cake or mashed potatoes made with milk would have me running for the bathroom.

In country NSW in the early Nineties, going dairy-free was a difficult undertaking. There was no polenta, very few nut milks and no zucchini cheese (and yes, that’s exactly what it says!)

Now, of course, all those things and more are readily available to buy online in Australia, and there are plenty of websites to help those who find they can’t tolerate dairy products.

Fortunately for me, after about a year, my gut health improved and I was able to tolerate dairy again. I can go now eat as many egg custard tarts as I like.


Siobhan Martin is a former London journalist living on the Central Coast.

She is a long-time foodie, and thanks to her super healthy husband, now has an interest in exercise.

The slings and arrows of life have taught her to be more mindful, and pace herself. In view of this, she tries to exercise five times a week, but sometimes stays in bed. She also attempts to feed her three children as healthily as possible, but occasionally reverts to chicken nuggets. 

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