Lactose Intolerance: Life Without Dairy

There are two major categories of people who have trouble with dairy products, those with allergies and those with lactose intolerance.

According to the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) lactose intolerance affects 50 million adult Americans, and from 75 to 90 percent of some ethnic populations. Lactose intolerance is least common in people of northern European descent.

The symptoms include gas, cramps, a bloated feeling and diarrhea. Symptoms begin anywhere from half an hour to two hours after consumption of the dairy products. The degree of lactose tolerance varies from person to person. Some may be able to consume a full serving of dairy with no trouble while others may only be able to eat aged cheeses and treated milk. A very small percentage will have trouble with any amount of lactose in their diets.

Lactose intolerance is caused by a lack of the enzyme lactase. Lactase breaks down the lactose, a sugar found dairy products, into simpler compounds that can be absorbed into the blood stream by the small intestine. Infants have high levels of lactase; natural production of lactase begins to decrease around age two.

Although lactose intolerance is uncomfortable, it’s not life threatening. And is easily controlled through diet and over the counter lactase.

The health concern of Lactose Intolerance is not getting enough of the nutrients in dairy products, especially calcium and vitamin D. Calcium fortified juice, soy and rice drinks are healthy non-lactose options for the Lactose Intolerant. Broccoli, fish with edible bones and beans are other good sources of calcium. For those who can tolerate some lactose yogurt, ice cream, hard cheeses and cottage cheese will provide calcium. Eggs, liver, tuna (canned in oil), cooked salmon and sunlight are sources of vitamin D.

The need for calcium is well known, but the supporting role of vitamin D in our bodies is equally important. Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium and phosphorous. Without vitamin D we are susceptible to diseases of the bone that may leave out bones brittle.
Dairy products are also a significant source of riboflavin, protein, vitamin B12, potassium, vitamin A and niacin.

If you suspect lactose intolerance, try eliminating all sources of dairy for two weeks. If you symptoms subside or disappear you have found the likely culprit. If you’re not sure, talk to your doctor she can advise you further. It’s also a good idea to consult a registered dietician to make sure you are getting adequate nutrients.

Watch out for the hidden sources of lactose. It is found in many foods including baked goods, salad dressings, breakfast cereal, lunchmeat and snack foods, just to name a few. Lactose can also be found both prescription and over the counter medications. When reading labels look for the words milk, lactose, curds, whey and words that begin with lac.

It will take some experimentation to find the level of lactose you can tolerate. The over the counter lactase comes in liquid and capsule form, is either added directly to milk or taken with the dairy product.

Helpful Hints:

-Know which products cause you problems and read the labels on the products you eat.

-Ask what’s in the food at restaurants.

-Make your own salad dressing substituting lactose free milk for regular milk.

-Substitute water or juice for the milk in baking recipes.

-Drink small glasses of milk with meals.

-Buy calcium enriched orange juice.

-Yogurt containing live bacteria is usually well tolerated.

-Look for Kosher lunchmeat.

-Look for soy-based products.

Educate yourself about lactose intolerance and proper nutrition. It’s your best defense against the inconvenience and discomfort of lactose intolerance. Remember it’s not the end of the world. Focus on getting balanced diet and avoiding those foods that make feel less than yourself.

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