Casein is one of the main proteins found in dairy products.
Lactose intolerance, which is an intolerance to the sugar found in milk, is one of the most common food intolerances, but an intolerance to casein can sometimes cause similar symptoms. Casein is one of the main proteins found in milk and some dairy products. Since most food intolerances and allergies are caused by specific types of protein, it is possible to react to casein too. If you notice that your symptoms seem to be associated with the consumption of casein-containing dairy products, ask your doctor to perform tests to identify whether you are intolerant or allergic to the casein.
Casein in Foods
Most dairy products contain casein, but not all. Since casein is a protein, it is found in dairy products that have a higher protein content, such as milk, yogurt, kefir, cheese and ice cream. Dairy products that contain barely any protein, such as butter and cream, only have traces of casein. Some people with casein intolerance can tolerate these foods in moderate amounts, but if you are allergic or severely intolerant to casein, you should avoid them completely. Ghee, or clarified butter, is free of casein and safe to consume even if you are sensitive to casein. Always read food labels, because milk-derived ingredients, such as whey, protein powder, powdered milk, artificial butter flavor and artificial cheese flavor, can contain small amounts of casein.
The symptoms associated with a casein allergy can be quite severe and immediate and include wheezing, difficulty breathing, vomiting and hives. The reaction for a casein intolerance is usually less severe and takes a bit more time to appear. Gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea, bloating and abdominal cramps, are common symptoms of a food intolerance, but some people can also experience joint pain, fatigue and behavioral changes. If an allergy test does not reveal an allergy or intolerance to casein but you still seem to experience side effects from casein, try going on a casein-free diet for a month. An improvement in your symptoms during that time period will indicate that your body does not handle casein well.
Casein-Free Sources of Calcium
Eliminating casein from your diet also means eliminating some of the highest sources of calcium, such as milk, cheese and yogurt. To maintain strong bones on a casein-free diet, include casein-free sources of calcium at most of your meals. If you tolerate soy, you can try including enriched soy milk. Always shake soy milk before pouring it since the enriched calcium tends to sink to the bottom of the carton. Green leafy vegetables and dried fruits are rich sources of calcium. Homemade bone broth made with fresh bones and a bit of vinegar to facilitate leaching of the the minerals from the bones into the broth is also a good source of highly absorbable calcium.
Giving up your favorite dairy products can be difficult at first, but you will get used to it after a few days, especially if it allows you to feel better and avoid the side effects that were impairing your quality of life. You can still prepare lasagna and pizza, but simply omit the cheese. Prepare meals based on any combination of vegetables, protein and healthy fats. For example, you could have a chicken and broccoli stir-fry over rice or a steak with asparagus and sweet potato fries. For dessert, avoid milk chocolate, cheesecake and ice cream. Instead, go for fruit-based desserts, dark milk-free chocolate or a smoothie made with coconut milk instead of casein-containing milk.