The Low Down on Lactose
Studies show that dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt, when consumed as part of a healthy diet, contribute to better bone health, improve overall diet quality, and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis, hypertension, and obesity. One of dairy’s most well-knows nutrients is calcium, but dairy foods also contain other essential nutrients like potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamins A, B12, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin D. Getting enough of these nutrients is essential even if you are lactose intolerant. But, don’t worry. Experts have identified simple strategies to make dairy foods easier to digest, allowing you to still benefit from dairy’s unique nutrient package.
What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is a type of food sensitivity. It is not an allergy. Lactose intolerance is the result of not having enough lactase, an enzyme that digests the natural sugar (lactose) in milk. The amount of lactase a person has is genetic. People who have low levels of the lactase enzyme may experience intolerance symptoms such as gas, bloating, or diarrhea if they consume more lactose than their body can handle at one time.
“Different people can handle different amounts of lactose,” explains Lora Ragazzo, a dietitian with the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council. “And, there are solutions in the dairy case to meet the nutritional needs of those that are lactose intolerant – from lactose-free milk to dairy foods that are typically easier to digest.” She recommends the following tips when it comes to lactose intolerance and dairy foods:
Start with small portions of dairy foods and slowly increase the serving sizes. When you notice symptoms that may signal your limit for the amount of lactose you can handle at one time, stop eating that particular food and note the amount you have ingested so far. This will give you a guideline when eating the food again in the future.
Combine milk and other dairy products with other foods. Solid foods slow digestion and allow the body more time to digest lactose, which may help prevent symptoms from occurring.
Older is Wiser
It holds true for cheese too! When milk is made into cheese, most of the lactose is removed. Aged hard cheeses, such as Cheddar, Swiss, provolone, Monterey Jack, Muenster, Gouda, Colby, and Parmesan are low in lactose.
Choose cultured milk products like yogurt, which contain live, active cultures that help digest lactose.
Embrace the Dairy Case
Look for other options in the dairy case such as lactose-free milk. It contains the same nutrients as regular milk, just without the lactose
Play it Safe
You can take a lactase enzyme pill with your first bite of dairy to help break down lactose so you can enjoy milk and other dairy foods.
Consult an Expert
If you think you are lactose intolerant, it is best to get tested by your doctor to avoid making unnecessary changes to your diet. Also, consult with a registered dietitian to be sure that you are getting an adequate amount of nutrients in your diet.
For more information and delicious recipes, visit The National Dairy Council at www.nationaldairycouncil.org