Weighing In: Lactose Intolerance

Heather Reese Health Guide
  • Question: I just found out I am lactose intolerant, does this mean I have to avoid all dairy products or just milk?


    Heather: Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest significant amounts of lactose, which is the main sugar found in milk. People who suffer from lactose intolerance do not have lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose during digestion. There are many degrees of lactose intolerance so you may not have to avoid all dairy products.


    Lactose intolerance is not an allergy, it is a problem caused by the digestive system. People who are deficient in lactase may feel very uncomfortable after ingesting milk/dairy products. The onset of symptoms is usually 30 minutes to 2 hours after the consumption of foods with lactose and they include:

    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:
    • Nausea
    • Cramps
    • Bloating
    • Gas
    • Diarrhea
    • vomiting

    Just as there are varying degrees of lactose intolerance the amount of lactose in different milk/dairy products is not always the same. Hard cheeses like Swiss and cheddar have small amounts of lactose so they are often tolerated by people who suffer from lactose intolerance. You might also find that you are able tolerate yogurt. This is because the bacteria in yogurt produce an enzyme that breaks down lactose. Be sure to look for yogurt that contains live or active cultures.


    The best thing to do when determining how much dairy you can tolerate is to completely eliminate all dairy products and gradually add them back in slowly to see which ones cause symptoms and which ones do not. I recommend keeping a food diary when you are doing this, include the type of dairy product, the time you ate it and the amount you ate and then record any symptoms along with the onset of the symptoms. Add dairy products back to you diet one by one so you can pin point exactly which one caused any symptoms that you might have. I would also encourage you to begin with small amounts.


    Of course you can also purchase lactase, over-the -counter, at your local pharmacy. It comes in tablet or liquid form and when taken with the first bit of dairy foods can help the body digest lactose. Many people find that the over-the-counter lactase is enough to control their symptoms. Again, I would begin slowly if trying this approach. And lactose-reduced milk and other dairy products are also available at the grocery store.


    It is also important to note that lactose is added to many prepared foods. So, if you have a particularly low tolerance for lactose you should pay very close attention to food labels. Look for words like whey, curds, milk by-products, dry milk solids and non-fat dry milk powder. If a food label contains these words than the food product does contain lactose.


    Since dairy is the most significant source of calcium in the American diet, if you do have to avoid dairy completely I would recommend a calcium supplement. There are also several non-dairy foods that are high in calcium such as broccoli, leafy greens, almonds, oranges, soy milk, canned salmon, and fortified breads and juices. Adults should consumer 1,200 milligrams of calcium every day.

Published On: April 07, 2008