Here’s the scoop on lactose intolerance

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Lactose intolerance is the inability to break down and absorb lactose. Lactase is the body’s enzyme that helps digest lactose, which is a sugar naturally found in dairy products. Insufficient lactase will cause gastrointestinal disturbances after consuming more lactose than the body can properly digest.

Between the ages of three and five, a lot of people begin to produce less lactase, but many people continue to be able to consume dairy products without problems.

10 facts about lactose intolerance

  1. Lactose intolerance isn’t a food allergy; it’s a food sensitivity.
  2. Only about 1 in 10 adults experience lactose intolerance.
  3. Lactose intolerance isn’t as common in young children as it is in adults.
  4. Having lactose intolerance does not mean that you can’t consume dairy products.
  5. Most adults don’t have the ability to digest a lot of milk.
  6. The inability to completely digest lactose is called lactose maldigestion, which can cause symptoms of lactose intolerance.
  7. In the U.S. about 25 percent of people are lactose maldigesters.
  8. Intolerance to milk can sometimes be a side effect of certain medications or illnesses such as the flu.
  9. Some mild to severe symptoms of lactose intolerance include: abdominal pain, bloating, gas and diarrhea.
  10. Only your doctor can properly diagnose you with lactose intolerance.

Foods for lactose intolerance

Can lactose intolerant people still consume dairy products? Yes! There are many ways for lactose intolerant people to still enjoy milk, cheese, butter, cream, yogurt, cottage cheese and ice cream in their diets.

Here are some lactose-friendly eating options:

  • Drink a small amount of milk (8 ounces) with a meal, then gradually increase the amount over days or weeks.
  • Eat lactose-free milk, cheese and yogurt, which still offer nutritional value that your body needs.
  • Eat cheeses such as mozzarella, Swiss, Cheddar, Colby and Monterey Jack that contain low amounts of lactose, so opt for these varieties.
  • Greek yogurt is low in lactose and packs in a lot of protein.
  • Mix milk with other foods, like soup, cereal and fruit. Doing this aids digestion.

There are non-dairy foods that are good sources of calcium, too, such as:

  • Milk substitutes, like soy milk, that contain added calcium and vitamin D.
  • Cereal, orange juice or other products that are fortified with calcium.
  • Canned salmon and other non-dairy foods that are rich in calcium.

More lactose intolerance information

Check out these sites for more information about lactose intolerance:

Sources: Penn State University Extension, Purdue University Extension, National Dairy Council

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