Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cheeseloving Gone A-Rye

I have big news for the world: I am eating dairy again.

For the past five months, I have been unable to eat cheese, normal bread, butter, sour cream- or cheese- flavored chips, or anything else that has dairy in it. I restricted myself to items that only had dairy in the “2% or less” part of the ingredients label, but eventually even cut out those.

I learned to love pecorino (cheese made from sheep’s milk) and goat’s milk, although I still don’t like goat cheese. Luckily I’m a lover of strange cheeses (a strange thing for a super-taster to say). But avoiding products cooked or baked with dairy was hard.

For those who don’t know, dairy allergies are distinctly different from lactose intolerance. Lactose is a sugar in milk, but when bacteria are added (such as in the making of cheese) they eat all the lactose up. Similarly, lactose is destroyed by being baked or cooked. The only things lactose-intolerant people need to avoid are milk and other “watery” dairy products like ice cream where the lactose hasn’t been destroyed.

A dairy allergy is a problem with the proteins in milk, not with the lactose. As an allergy, it didn’t give me digestion problems; I broke out in hives. The proteins do not break down when baked or cooked. This meant I had to avoid ALL dairy derivatives.

I never before appreciated how much of our food has dairy in it. I suddenly found myself having to check every label and on a very restricted diet. Luckily I could still eat most crackers, dark chocolate, and the fresh-baked bread, which doesn’t have milk. I ate lots of salads, and put goat feta on top wishfully. We made pizzas with pecorino romano on my half; it’s like having a parmesan pizza, and very rich.

It was hard, but you know what? Eventually I got in the habit. I knew I had to avoid practically all the good snacks on the snack aisle and kept it to pretzels; I started eating more meat in place of all the cheese I used to eat; and I think the constant analysis of what we were eating led us to choose more healthy meals overall.* I learned how to scour menus for items that I could eat, and be okay with that.

At our friends’ wedding a few weeks ago, I found that between being a supertaster and eating dairy-free, I would be going hungry. Well, I thought, what the heck; I’ll just deal with hives for a few days. I dug into mashed potatoes and put real butter on my bread. It was delicious. And the next day? Surprisingly, blissfully, nothing.

You can often kick allergies in the butt by eliminating the trigger and slowly going back onto it over time. I went off dairy at the start of the year and had planned to start introducing it in 2014, but looks like my body beat me to it. I have a suspicious feeling that the allergy was triggered by wedding-planning stress, since it popped up last summer. Being a happy newlywed, I’m healthy and stress-free.**

I have yet to eat an ice cream sundae, a pizookie, or that special box of Kraft mac-n-cheese that I’ve had waiting—a prize to remind me what I’m working towards. But I savored my way through a bag of sour-cream-and-onion Ruffles and, wow, they have never tasted better.

* I should say that my husband and I are already healthy eaters, and I mean that in the full sense of the word. We eat healthily, but we don’t go overboard, which can be an unhealthy lifestyle. We eat lots of vegetables and fruit, but we also have a bag of chips in our pantry and popsicles in the fridge. Being hypoglycemic, I have a bag of quick-fix snacks: cookies, peanuts, Trader Joe’s chocolate-y snack (right now, Powerberries), Luna bars, and pretzels. But then I scarf down raspberries and carrots for midday snacks. We’ve been having salads at least 3 nights a week, plus for lots of lunches. Life is meant to be a balance: eat well, but enjoy what you eat, too.

** Ever since my hubby and I began dating two years ago, my health has steadily improved. It’s amazing how much having someone at your side reduces stress, and my hub in particular is good at keeping me even-keeled. He reminds me to take care of myself and to have fun, and he is good at turning to God in prayer when my first instinct is to plan, control, stress, and hide.