Lactose—Not Just in Milk
LACTOSE is a part of every dairy product these days and it is obtained from different sources. Muslims need to pay attention to food labels and look for questionable ingredients when buying dairy products.
Lactose is a major type of sugar found in milk. It is a disaccharide (2 sugars) made up of glucose and galactose. While it is not found naturally in any other food aside from milk, it is frequently used in food, pharmaceutical and nutritional industry and found in products you least expect.
Lactose is present naturally in dairy products and added to nondairy products. It is used as a filler in foods, and a fat binder in baking products. A commercial food additive (also present when labels state lacoserum, whey, milk solids, modified milk ingredients) it is used for its texture, flavor and adhesive qualities, and is found in foods such as processed meats (sausages/hot dogs, sliced meats, pâtés), gravy, stock powder, margarines, sliced breads, breakfast cereals, potato chips, dried fruit, processed foods, medications, pre-prepared meals, meal replacement powders and bars, and protein supplements (powders and bars). In the pharmaceutical sector it is used as a filler, binder and absorber as well as a coating for pills and tablets.
Currently, there are two major sources for Lactose extraction:
Lactose is extracted using a process called membrane filtration in which hydrostatic pressure forces a liquid against a semi permeable membrane. Suspended solids and solutes of high molecular weight are retained, while water and low molecular weight solutes pass through the membrane. First, whole milk is passed through a concentration process called reverse osmosis. As a result of this process, a portion of water passes through the filter and other components such as fat, proteins, and lactose are the residues. Next, ultra filtration process is applied on residue. As a result, remaining water and lactose passes through the filter (permeate) and other components – fats and proteins are the residues. Lactose extracted through this process is halal because there are no enzymes used in the process.
Another source of lactose is from processed milk products such as whey. They are obtained by introducing some enzymes to milk. The sources of enzymes can be animals or microbes. Whey is filtered to get whey protein concentrate which is further filtered to extract Lactose. If the source of enzymes is microbial then extracted Lactose is Halal. However, if the source of enzymes is an animal, then it is Mashbooh (doubtful).
For a Muslim consumer, it is very important to find out the source of lactose used in the consumed product. Its source and extraction process must be known to decide whether it is halal or Mashbooh (doubtful). In short, Lactose extracted from milk through membrane filtration process is halal. On the other hand, Lactose extracted from processed milk products is Mashbooh.
According to National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose because of insufficient activity of an enzyme (lactase) in their digestive system. Thus, consumption of products with lactose causes adverse reactions in individuals who are lactose intolerant. Many people may confuse lactose intolerance with an allergy to milk, but the two are dissimilar. According to American Dietetic Association (ADA), lactose intolerance occurs when your body cannot digest lactose, the carbohydrate in milk. Symptoms include gastrointestinal complications such as diarrhea, gas and cramping. But if you have milk allergy, your body’s immune system thinks milk is a “harmful invader” and sends out antibodies to fight off the milk protein. The symptoms of a milk allergy are often similar to those of lactose intolerance; however, they usually are more severe and may include other symptoms such as itchy eyes, rash, runny nose and wheezing. Further, according to the ADA, people with a milk allergy must completely avoid milk products, while those with lactose intolerance may consume small amounts.