While many people think that lactose intolerance is the same as an allergy, it’s not. Lactose intolerance does not involve the immune system, while a milk allergy does. So what exactly is lactose intolerance? When “normal” individuals eat or drink a food that contains lactose (also known as milk sugar), it is broken down in the small intestines by an enzyme known as lactase. People that are lactose intolerant don’t make enough of this enzyme.
This means that when these people eat or drink these foods, the lactose travels to the small intestines and instead of being broken down, it’s left undigested. This can cause nausea, cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, gas, and/or diarrhea.
People that are lactose intolerant can be affected in a number of ways and to different degrees. Generally, symptoms tend to appear about 30 minutes to 2 hours after eating a food that contains lactose. Amounts of the offending food tend to play an important role in regard to symptoms.
While lactose intolerance is possible for premature infants (the lactase enzyme is produced during mom’s third trimester), term infants make enough of the enzyme for digestion of formula or breastmilk. Intolerance is usually caused by other reasons such as milk allergy, overfeeding, improper mixing, reflux, etc. Symptoms can start during childhood or later in life.
So if you or your child are lactose intolerant, what do you do? The first step is identifying foods that cause symptoms. Lactose is found in all milk products: milk, ice cream, yogurt, pudding, milkshakes, malts, creamy soups and sauces, etc.
- Choose lactose free products. Lactose free milk is available, as well as soymilk. Yogurt is generally well tolerated because it contains live enzymes that help our bodies break the lactose down.
- Experiment with small amounts of foods that contain milk to see what causes symptoms.
- Choose milk products in small amounts and check for symptoms.
- Eat offending foods with another food. This can sometimes make digesting lactose easier.
- Eat other calcium rich foods such as fish and shellfish, calcium fortified products such as orange juice, and dark green leafy veggies.
- Try an over the counter lactase enzyme. They are available in pill or drop form and should be taken just before eating a dairy product.
- Read labels. In the ingredients list, it will be in bold if a food contains milk. If a food is labeled with kosher, then it does not contain lactose.
Bottom Line: If you or your child is lactose intolerant, it doesn’t mean that you have to go cutting foods out completely. Use trial and error and make changes from there.
Are you or your child lactose intolerant? How do you cope?
Isaac isn’t lactose intolerant, but I am. It started when I was 21 years old. I’m not a big milk drinker, so no problems there. I usually eat yogurt daily, and I can tolerate cheese. Unfortunately, ice cream makes things very comfortable for me so I keep it to small portions.
I hope everyone has a great weekend!