People risk nutritional deficiency by declaring themselves dairy intolerant

Bill Bruce8 Mar 2013

© Mait Jüriado

Allergy UK has revealed that thousands of people could be at risk of nutritional deficiency by self-diagnosing themselves as dairy intolerant.

The national charity is expressing concern after new research revealed that 44% of individuals who class themselves as dairy intolerant are self-diagnosed, relying on the internet and non-conventional methods of diagnosis.

Allergy UK has highlighted an urgent need for more credible information and guidance from qualified health professionals.

72% of those suffering from dairy intolerance symptoms have removed all dairy sources from their diet, the main source of calcium in the UK, and a further 25% have cut out some dairy food groups.

The reason so many are opting for a dairy free diet is that they are trying to find a solution to an ongoing health problem.

Gut symptoms, including stomach or abdominal discomfort, bloating and diarrhoea were the main reasons for individuals going dairy free. Eczema and nasal/sinus congestion were the fourth and fifth most common symptoms.

Over half of those surveyed (54%) said there wasn’t enough advice out there for dairy intolerance sufferers. In particular, they were seeking more information on calcium, recipes, suitable dairy swaps and ideas for eating out.

Allergy UK deputy CEO Lindsey McManus said: “The results are worrying. Food intolerance is an increasingly common condition. It's vital that the front-line healthcare professionals such as GPs and practice nurses receive more support in this area.

"More credible and easily accessible resources need to be made available to ensure sufferers receive the correct advice and are signposted to appropriate resources of information.

“To help identify whether food is a cause of symptoms, a food/symptoms diary can help to identify a pattern. We would always recommend taking the diary to your GP (or allergy specialist) who can diagnose what may be causing the symptoms, or refer to a dietitian.”

Three quarters (75%) of the individuals surveyed said their preference was to be assessed through a face-to-face consultation with a health professional. Written materials and online support were also key.

Kate Arthur, a dietitian from Alpro, which funded the research, said: “Promisingly, the research did show that soya dairy free alternatives are the number one choice for the majority of individuals avoiding dairy, but when cutting out dairy foods from the diet, it's particularly important to ensure they are replaced with suitable dairy free alternatives.

"Following a nutritionally balanced dairy free diet can be achieved if sufferers are provided with credible advice and have access to information from health professionals.”

Allergy UK is the operational name of the British Allergy Foundation.