When you are lactose intolerant, you are unable to digest lactose. Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products. This usually happens because you are lacking proper amounts of the enzyme lactase.
If you are lactose intolerant, when you eat or drink milk products, you may experience some pretty uncomfortable symptoms. Abdominal bloating, intestinal gas, nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps can all be signs that you are lactose intolerant — especially if these symptoms occur just after consuming milk products.
Lactose intolerance can begin at any time in your life. It is estimated that approximately 30 million American adults have some form of lactose intolerance by age 20.
If you have digestive troubles and you think you might be lactose intolerant, here’s what you can do. First, it’s a good idea to find out just how sensitive you are. The degree of intolerance varies from person to person. To gage your own intolerance, get all lactose out of your system by avoiding lactose-containing foods for three weeks.
Next, add very small quantities of milk or cheese to your diet. Keep track of your symptoms and see how much or how little dairy you can handle before you feel uncomfortable.
If you do consume dairy, stick with small servings. Also, fat slows the progression of lactose through your digestive system, giving your body more time to digest it. So try drinking small amounts of two-percent milk instead of skim milk.
Don’t drink milk or other dairy products alone. Have them in combination with other foods. Having dairy on an empty stomach can make your symptoms worse.
Many foods can contain lactose, so be aware that you may be consuming more than you think you are. Chocolate, pudding, cereals, bread, cookie mixes, and even hot dogs can contain lactose. Check labels on processed foods before you eat them. Lactose is also found in many medications.
Try eating yogurt. Even though yogurt is as high in lactose as milk, the bacterial cultures produce some of the enzymes you need for digestion. Even if you can’t tolerate milk at all, you may be able to tolerate yogurt.
When eating cheese, stick to hard varieties like cheddar, Swiss, or Colby. The harder the cheese, the lower the lactose content. So stay away from soft cheeses like cottage cheese or cream cheese. These are likely to aggravate your digestive symptoms.
Use dairy substitutes. Soy milk, almond milk, and rice milk all come in calcium-fortified versions. You can keep your calcium levels up without worrying about ingesting too much lactose.