Sunday, February 3, 2008

When Cutting Out the Cheese Cuts Out Cutting the Cheese

If you're seeking to stop flatulence, consider deleting cheese from your diet.

About 30 per cent of the population of North America (and 50 per cent of Hispanics, 80 per cent of African-Americans, and 90 per cent of Asian-Americans) is lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance is a hereditary predisposition to lack the enzymes needed to digest the milk sugars, lactose, in dairy products.

Althought cheese doesn't have the highest lactose content among dairy products (Enfamil infant formula is over 56 per cent lactose by weight, most cheeses are about 2 per cent and a cheese pizza, for example, only about 1 per cent), avoiding cheese or taking Lactaid is essential for avoiding gas if you can't digest dairy.

But what if the problem seems to come and go? And what if you're not lactose intolerant?

It turns out cheese combined with other foods can cause flatulence, too.

Cheese, beer, sauerkraut, salami, sausage, tuna, and tomatoes are rich in the amino acid histamine, the same acid of antihistamine fame. Even if you are not allergic to these foods, the histamine they contain can provoke an allergy-like reaction producing symptoms such as dry eyes, itchy eyes, itchy skin, diarrhea, and, yes, flatulence. Sometimes it's enough just to avoid eating three or more of these foods together, such as no sausage, cheese, and tomato omelets, no sauerkraut with a chili cheese dog.

And in the elderly, cheese can sometimes cause intestinal function to operate by fits and starts. Cheese slows down the transit of food through the lower digestive tract. This gives fermentable foods more time to ferment and produce gas, even in persons who, once again, are not lactose intolerant.

Cheese is a terrific source of calcium and protein, even if it is usually high in fat. Eating cheese in moderation, without eating other high-histamine foods, and taking Lactaid if you need it, however, can keep you from cutting the cheese.

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