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Lactose Intolerant Diet

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Lactose intolerance is a set of symptoms resulting from the body's inability to digest the milk sugar called lactose. Lactose is commonly found in dairy-based foods and beverages, and is digested in the intestines by the enzyme lactase. Lactase breaks down lactose so it can be absorbed into the bloodstream. When the body does not produce enough lactase, lactose cannot be digested which may result in lactose intolerance. Individuals may have varying degrees of intolerance to lactose.

Between 30 to 50 million Americans suffers from lactose intolerance. In fact, 75 percent of adults worldwide do not produce adequate amounts of the lactase enzyme, and therefore may experience some or all of the symptoms of lactose intolerance.

If you are lactose intolerant, you share this condition with many people. It is estimated that 90 percent of Asian-Americans are lactose intolerant and 75 percent of all African and Native Americans, Jews, and Hispanics in the U.S. have insufficient levels of the lactase enzyme and may experience some or all symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

Depending on the individual, the symptoms may vary, including cramps, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and nausea. If you experience these symptoms after eating dairy products, you could try a natural product such as papaya enzymes. If that doesn't help enough, you may wish to talk with a registered dietitian or physician for an accurate evaluation and appropriate management.

How can I manage lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance can be easily managed. Because some individuals may produce small amounts of lactase, they may be able to consume small servings of dairy products or other foods that contain lactose without experiencing discomfort. A larger amount of lactase is needed to digest a larger amount of lactose, so eating a larger serving of lactose-containing foods could result in the symptoms of lactose intolerance.

Consider the following suggestions:

  • Drink milk in servings of one cup or less.
  • Try hard cheeses that are low in lactose, like Cheddar.
  • Drink milk with a meal or with other foods.
  • Try yogurt with active cultures. Substitute lactose-reduced dairy products, such as nonfat, low-fat, and calcium-fortified milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, and ice cream, for regular dairy products.
  • Take a Lactase Enzyme Supplement - chew 1 tablet with your first bite of dairy foods.
  • Add Lactase Enzyme Drops to regular milk.
  • Do other nondairy foods also contain lactose?

Some nondairy foods may include ingredients that contain lactose. The ingredient list on food packages informs you of lactose or lactose-containing ingredients in the food. Although dairy products are the most common sources of lactose, some nondairy processed or baked foods contain smaller amounts.

Individuals who experience symptoms of lactose intolerance with small amounts of lactose-containing foods should look for words such as "whey," "lactose," "nonfat milk solids," "buttermilk," "malted milk," "margarine," and "sweet" or "sour cream." Some breads, dry cereals, cookies, instant soups, breakfast drinks, and milk chocolate contain small amounts of lactose. Ask a pharmacist if medications you take contain lactose.

Does lactose-reduced milk contain the same nutrients as regular milk?

Carton of milk Lactose-reduced milk contains the same amounts of protein, vitamins A, D, and riboflavin, and the minerals calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium as regular milk. Some lactose-reduced milk is also calcium-fortified. Check the Nutrition Facts label for the amounts of nutrients in milk. Dairy products are a significant source of calcium and other minerals needed for healthy bones and teeth. Two to three servings from the milk, yogurt, and cheese group help provide the calcium and other minerals you need each day.

What foods contain calcium?
Many foods contain calcium, such as broccoli, kale, canned salmon with bones, calcium-fortified breads, and tofu. Read the Nutrition Facts label for the amounts of calcium in these foods. A healthy, well-balanced eating pattern includes foods from all food groups: bread, cereal, rice, pasta, fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dry beans, nuts, milk, yogurt, and cheese.

View a Lactose Chart (new window) that lists foods you should avoid, and foods that are recommended for a lactose free diet. Those marked with an asterisk should only be avoided for those who have to follow a strict lactose-free diet.

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