Plenary session: lactose intolerance

What’s the role of dairy products in Palaeolithic diets? Mark Thomas, professor of Evolutionary Genetics at University College London, shared his considerations on the relevance of perspectives such as the Palaelothic diets, and lactose intolerance that is often part of the discussion.

Mark Thomas: the benefits of dairy

Thomas emphasised that there is very limited current knowledge as to what the Palaeolithic diets actually were. In addition, we know that human populations have adapted to changes in diet by natural selection, the most dramatic example being the evolution of ‘lactase persistence’. This enzyme allows consumption of fresh milk without the adverse effects of lactose malabsorption, also known as lactose intolerance. In summary, based on new data on hunter-gatherer and Palaeolithic diets, Thomas showed that consumption of dairy is beneficial. “If evolutionary biology tells us anything about the relationship between diet and health it tells us that drinking milk is a good idea: drinking milk over the last 7000 years was more advantageous than immortality would be today!” Thomas adds after his lecture: “A lot of people do not digest the sugar (lactose) in milk, that certainly seems to be a business opportunity to me!”

Reactions from the audience:

  • Rolf Pederson: “Lactose free dairy is a solution for the lactose intolerant – and an opportunity to produce sweet products with less carbohydrates.”

Thomas: “The use of glucose for example also has its negative effects on health.”

  • Beatrice Trotin: “And what about paleo fermented milk?”

Thomas: “The lactose content in milk reduces when it is fermented. In warm countries the milk that is taken from cows in the morning, will have to be eaten as yoghurt in the afternoon.”

  • Javier: “Some paleo already promote the use of dairy, but full fat dairy. Not processed low fat dairy..”