This may surprise you, but lactose intolerance is a type of food sensitivity — not an allergy! It is the result of not having enough lactase, an enzyme that digests lactose, the natural sugar in milk. Lactose intolerance is a very individual condition, which means people are able to tolerate different amounts of lactose.
Most people can continue to enjoy the taste and health benefits of low fat and fat free dairy foods by drinking lactose-free milk, having small amounts of milk with meals or including natural cheeses or yogurt in their diet.
Diagnosing Lactose Intolerance
People who are lactose intolerant have a hard time digesting the sugar (called lactose) that is naturally found in milk. Symptoms may include stomachaches, bloating or gassiness, but these symptoms can have many different causes and could also be signs of other digestive conditions.
Lactose intolerance is less common in young children. If you think you or your child is lactose intolerant, talk to your family doctor, pediatrician or dietitian before limiting dairy intake and get properly tested for lactose intolerance.
Missing Essential Nutrients
While individuals with milk allergies must avoid ALL dairy, avoidance is not necessary for those who are lactose intolerant.
Why keep delicious dairy foods in your diet? They are an important source of key nutrients, such as calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D and provide many health benefits. Health and nutrition experts agree that it’s difficult to get enough of these nutrients without dairy in your diet. And remember, plant-based beverages do not contain the same nutrient package as real milk.
Incorporating Dairy in Your Diet
If you are lactose intolerant, below are some ways you can enjoy dairy again:
- Try lactose-free milk and dairy foods. They are real milk products, just without the lactose, and provide the same nutrients as regular dairy foods.
- Enjoy easy-to-digest yogurt. The live and active cultures in yogurt help to digest lactose.
- Choose naturally-aged cheeses. Natural cheeses such as Cheddar, Colby, Monterey jack, mozzarella and Swiss are low in lactose.
- Mix milk with other foods. Adding milk to foods like cereal, soups and sauces gives your body more time to digest lactose.
- Experiment in small amounts. Try adding small amounts of dairy foods to your diet and slowly increase the amount over several days or weeks.