Lactose intolerance is a general description used to refer to people who have varying degrees of
difficulty digesting lactose. Lactose is a sugar that is found in different types of milks in varying
amounts. Once consumed, lactose is broken down by an enzyme called lactase into two simpler
forms of sugar called glucose and galactose. These are then absorbed into the bloodstream and used
by the body for energy. People who have lactose intolerance have a reduction in the amount of
lactase enzyme they produce (although not necessarily a complete absence). This in turn
contributes to the symptoms of lactose intolerance
Lactose intolerance affects approximately many people and it can be a permanent condition or it can
be temporary, for example, occurring after an infection in the gut.
Lactose intolerance must not be confused with a cow's milk allergy. Milk allergy is a reaction by the
body's immune system to one or more milk proteins and can be life threatening when just a small
amount of milk or milk product is consumed. Milk allergy most commonly appears in the first year of
life while lactose intolerance occurs more often in adulthood. People with lactose intolerance do
not need to eliminate milk and products made from milk completely. They can often tolerate small
to moderate amounts in the diet without experiencing symptoms.
Lactose intolerance can be diagnosed by several methods, 1) Elimination Diet, 2) Hydrogen Breath
Test and 3) Stool Acidity Test. If you suspect you have lactose intolerance, speak to your doctor in
order to confirm which testing method may be best for you.
Signs and Symptoms indicating lactose intolerance
Symptoms of lactose intolerance may appear 30minutes to 2 hours after consuming milk and milk
products. Some of the common symptoms are:
It is also important to eliminate the possibility of other gastro-intestinal diseases that
share similar symptoms. Before changing your diet, seek advice from your doctor or an Accredited
Sources of lactose
The table below lists the lactose content of some commonly consumed dairy products. Yoghurt may
be tolerated by some individuals because some of the lactose is pre-digested by the yoghurt's
Please note the lactose content varies between brands, and as such may vary from the amounts
Managing Lactose Intolerance
Symptoms of lactose intolerance can be managed with dietary changes or simple exclusion.
Some people with lactose intolerance may be able to tolerate a certain amount of lactose in their
diet but it isn't necessary to try to keep it in the diet as there are so many alternatives to cows milk
products on the market.
Here are a few tips which will help you when making changes to your diet:
Try excluding milk first to see if this has a positive effect, if symptoms persist then move to eliminate more or all cow's milk based products from the diet.
Lactose free and lactose reduced milk and milk products are available at most supermarkets.
They are identical to regular milk except that the lactase enzyme has been added to it.
Soy milk and soy products are great alternatives which are lactose free and most are fortified with calcium (check the label).
Try rice, almond or oat milk as these are great alternatives. With these product and soy milk, experiment with different brands to find the one you like the best as many taste quite different.
Try milk based products from other animals such as a sheep or a goat such as yoghurt and cheese. It may sound a bit strange to start with but they often taste better and this is why many gourmet restaurant use these products in their cooking.
Don't worry about your calcium intake as there is plenty of calcium in things like baby spinach and other green leafy vegetables.
Other important points to remember when managing lactose intolerance
Calcium is absorbed and used in the body only when enough vitamin D is present so it's important to
also be aware of how much vitamin D you are getting. Vitamin D comes from food sources such as
eggs, liver and more. Regular exposure to sunlight also helps the body naturally absorb vitamin D. To
get enough sunlight to produce vitamin D, expose your hands, face and arms (around 15% of your
body surface) to sunlight for about 6-8 minutes, 4-6 times per week (before 10am or after 2pm
Standard Time in summer, for moderately fair people).
Milk and milk products are present in many processed foods, hence when following a low lactose or
lactose free diet it's important to read the ingredients on the food labels. Items to look out for on
the ingredient list are: - milk, lactose, whey, curds, milk by-products, dry milk solids and non-fat dry
Lactose is also commonly used in some prescription medicines, including birth control pills, and
over-the-counter medicines including products to treat stomach acid and gas. These medicines can
cause symptoms in people with severe lactose intolerance.
The following food products contain small amounts of lactose. If you have severe lactose
intolerance, they may cause symptoms.