One of the most common food intolerances is lactose. But what is it and should you really be avoiding it?
What is Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is the decreased ability of your body to break down lactose, the carbohydrate naturally found in dairy products. When lactose enters the small intestine it is typically broken down by an enzyme called lactase. Some people lack this enzyme so instead lactose continues to travel to the large intestine where it is broken down by bacteria. This process releases gas as a by-product which causes bloating and abdominal pain or discomfort.
How can I tell if I have lactose intolerance?
Common symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, abdominal pain or discomfort after consuming dairy products. Sometimes this is very obvious but for some it’s not. If you have any questions, check with your doctor and he/she can perform a hydrogen breath test. This test requires you to consume something that contains lactose, so if you are sure that this is the cause of your bloating, don’t force yourself to go through this pain!
What can I do to manage lactose intolerance?
For some with mild to moderate lactose intolerance, taking an oral lactase enzyme pill called lactaid can help. Consuming the pill with dairy products helps to break down the lactose in the small intestine. Those with mild lactose intolerance may also be able to tolerate hard cheeses like cheddar cheese and Greek or Icelandic style yogurts since the process of making these products results in loss of the lactose. For those with more severe lactose intolerance, all dairy products may need to be avoided. This means choosing alternative sources of dairy to meet calcium and Vitamin D needs. Some dairy alternatives include lactaid milk (lactose-free milk), as well as milk and yogurt made with soy, almond or coconut milk.
If you have lactose intolerance do you need to avoid it?
The answer is no! It won’t harm you to consume dairy, it just might not feel great. Sometimes the enjoyment of consuming a dairy-containing product is totally worth the discomfort, and sometimes it’s not. My advise to you is to listen to your body and do what feels right for you!
Questions about whether you have lactose intolerance or not or how to manage your diet with lactose intolerance? Please reach out to our dietitian Lauren Sharifi, RD LDN.
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