I drank milk from when I was a baby, all the way through high school. I’m not talking dairy versus dairy free life. I’m talking, straight up drank milk at meals. And obviously, this is the norm in many ways. I drank milk in high school because that was one of the only options at lunch time. This is a classic school cafeteria offering. Classic milk carton, questionable food.
After I got out of high school I simply phased out of drinking milk. I still would make chocolate milk once and awhile, and I still ate dairy in general. Growing up I never would have guessed that it was not the ‘natural’ thing to do. Yet lactose intolerance was always quite common around me.
It wasn’t until I started my own ‘journey’ (that’s cheesy) going dairy free that I learned most of the world is lactose intolerant. About 65% of adults are. The rest are generally of European dissent, or African dissent, as well as Middle Eastern. It’s not because of something that’s always been in our genes. In fact, it’s because of evolution.
As NPR states, they estimate it took about 20,000 years for this particular trait to evolve. And it’s existence proves there was quite a big need for it to occur in the humans it did. It’s believed that being able to drink cow’s milk helped many through famine, so natural selection took place.
Yet so many humans still cannot tolerate it. These are cultures that simply still don’t have much dairy in their cuisine, they never had to evolve to tolerate it. Naturally, humans would lose their ability to digest lactose by losing the enzyme babies are born with – lactase. Nature simply decides that after the period of time a woman would be breast feeding her young, there would also be no reason for the young to digest milk.
This loss of tolerance for it occurs in all other species. It’s an interesting idea to wonder what would happen to human evolution if we stopped drinking milk/consuming dairy far into adulthood. Would this evolution reverse? Or would it be like wisdom teeth? There but not in use. As more and more people turn to dairy alternatives, we may already be in the process of finding out.