Lactose is a sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest this milk sugar. Symptoms are produced when lactose is not adequately absorbed in the digestive tract (malabsorption). Symptoms may include watery stool or diarrhea, abdominal cramps, gas and/or bloating experienced after eating or drinking lactose-containing foods and beverages.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance are similar to those in some other digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Some people have both lactose intolerance and another disorder like IBS. Still others mistakenly think they have lactose intolerance, but do not. A diagnosis by a doctor is important to accurately determine what is wrong and how to best treat it.
Did you know...
Non-Dairy Sources can Contain Lactose
Some non-dairy foods may include ingredients that contain lactose. The ingredient list on food packages informs you of lactose or those ingredients in the food that contain lactose. Dairy products are the most common sources of lactose, although some non-dairy processed or baked foods contain smaller amounts.
Individuals who experience symptoms of lactose intolerance from 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.
Also, lactose is widely used as a filler or diluent (increases bulk) in tablets and capsules. Ask a pharmacist if medications you take contain lactose. [Source: The American Dietetic Association]
Many people with lactose intolerance, or who think they are lactose intolerant, avoid dairy products, These products are readily available sources of calcium, other nutrients, and vitamin D (when fortified). Not getting enough of these nutrients may increase the risk for chronic health problems, including osteoporosis and decreased bone health. Importantly, in most cases individuals do not need to eliminate dairy consumption completely.
Available evidence suggests that adults and adolescents who have been diagnosed with lactose malabsorption could comfortably ingest . . .
at least 12 grams of lactose (equivalent to 1 cup of milk) when administered in a single dose with no or minor symptoms
larger amounts of lactose if ingested with meals and distributed throughout the day
So talk to your doctor. If you have a diagnosis of IBS you may be tested to see if lactose intolerance is present. People with IBS whose tests prove negative will not be helped by a lactose free diet.
Treatment of lactose intolerance initially involves the elimination of all lactose-containing products from the diet. Moderate amounts of dairy or modified dairy products may be gradually reintroduced into the diet as tolerated. A doctor or registered dietician can help you plan your diet to minimize discomfort while maintaining a healthy balance in what you eat and drink.
For more information visit:
- The IFFGD Library topics on food intolerance/malabsorption.