Managing Lactose Intolerance Symptoms

Lactose intolerance symptoms can be quite unpleasant, but luckily can be very easily managed. Even though it seems as though lactose intolerance is very common, only about 12% of adults struggle with digesting dairy foods because of lactose intolerance. Most people with lactose intolerance can still consume dairy products but may have to limit the total amount and the frequency of when they enjoy them.

It is important to point out that lactose intolerance is not the same as a milk allergy. A milk allergy is an immune response to milk protein and can be very serious. Lactose intolerance, however, leads to difficulty digesting milk sugar, known as lactose, leading to digestive issues.

Lactose is a natural sugar found in dairy products which is broken down by the lactase enzyme in the digestive tract. When someone has an insufficient amount of the lactase enzyme, lactose is not fully broken down and the sugars are left to be fermented in the colon by “healthy” gut bacteria. This fermentation is what leads to the discomfort of such lactose intolerance symptoms as bloating, gas, diarrhea, cramps, and possibly nausea. It can take anywhere between 15 minutes to several hours for someone with lactose intolerance to develop symptoms.

Dairy foods contain many nutrients important for our health including calcium, protein, vitamin D, vitamin A, riboflavin, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. If you or a loved one suffers from lactose intolerance, read on to learn some tips to help better manage your symptoms and still reap the nutritional benefits of dairy foods.

Try consuming smaller portions of dairy foods throughout the day. Most people with lactose intolerance can tolerate a small amount of lactose per day.

Don’t give up dairy foods completely. Instead, choose foods that contain lower amounts of lactose per servings.

Regular Milk = 12 grams

Regular Yogurt = 11-17 grams

Goat’s Milk = 9 grams

Ice Cream = 6-7 grams

Greek Yogurt = 2-4 grams

Cottage Cheese = 2-3 grams

Processed Cheese = 2-3 grams

Sour Cream = <0.5 grams

Hard cheese, such as Swiss or cheddar = 0.3-1 grams

Lactaid Milk = 0 grams

Choosing Lactaid milk, hard cheeses, Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese are simple ways to lower your lactose intake while still including dairy in your diet.

Consume lactose-containing foods during meals with other foods. Enjoying a glass of milk or other dairy food with other solid foods slows down the release of lactose into the small intestine making it easier to digest.

Probiotics from live and active cultures in yogurt, kefir, and buttermilk help to break down lactose and make these foods more tolerable for people with lactose intolerance.

Experiment with dairy alternatives. There are many cow’s milk alternatives such as almond, cashew, coconut, soy, and pea protein milk. Remember, many of these are not the same nutritionally as cow’s milk, most nut milks have very little protein, calories, and are void of vitamins unless they are added to the milk. If you are looking to replace cow’s milk with a milk alternative, soy milk and pea protein milk compares most similarly with dairy milk. Remember, most people can tolerate small amounts of lactose but dairy alternatives are an option for those who are very sensitive or choose to avoid cow’s milk altogether.

It’s important to remember that lactose intolerance is not an all-or-nothing condition. Finding ways to manage your symptoms while still enjoying your favorite dairy foods can help you get adequate nutrition and feel your best. 

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