Lactose intolerance is a common digestive disorder that affects a significant portion of the global population. For myself, I have difficulty digesting lactose as well, which includes milk and dairy products. The sugars found in dairy products cause a significant amount of symptoms including bloating, gas, diarrhea, and gut pain. These symptoms happen about a few hours after consuming lactose-containing foods and beverages.
Recently I went to one of my favorite Thai restaurants in the city and ordered a few dishes featuring condensed milk. The experience soon turned into a nightmare as I was sitting on the toilet for hours with significant bloating and gut pain.
What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose is a disaccharide or sugar found in milk and milk derived products. To digest lactose, the body produces an enzyme called lactase which breaks down lactose into glucose and galactose components for better absorption. However, individuals with lactose intolerance have insufficient levels of lactase, leading to difficulties in digesting lactose.
What are some options for people with lactose intolerance?
Lactose-Free Dairy Products: Many individuals with lactose intolerance can still enjoy dairy products by opting for lactose-free alternatives. Lactose-free milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream are widely available in most grocery stores. These products undergo a process where lactase is added to break down lactose into more easily digestible sugars, making them suitable for individuals with lactose intolerance. In coffee I like to add lactose-free milk even though the price point is moderately higher because it does not compromise the taste of milk and does not give the bloating and other symptoms.
Fermented Dairy Products: Fermented dairy products such as yogurt and kefir are often better tolerated by individuals with lactose intolerance. During the fermentation process, bacteria convert lactose into lactic acid, reducing the lactose content. Probiotic-rich yogurt and kefir also contain beneficial bacteria that can aid digestion.
Plant-Based Milk Substitutes: For those who prefer to avoid dairy altogether, there is a wide range of plant-based milk substitutes available. Almond milk, soy milk, oat milk, rice milk, and coconut milk are popular options that can be used as a direct replacement for cow’s milk in various recipes. These alternatives are naturally lactose-free and offer a range of flavors and nutritional profiles.
Modifying Dairy Intake: Some individuals with lactose intolerance find that they can tolerate small amounts of lactose without experiencing symptoms. Experimenting with portion sizes and types of dairy products can help determine individual tolerance levels. Additionally, consuming lactose-containing foods with other non-lactose foods or during meals may also improve digestion.
Lactase Supplements: Lactase supplements are available over the counter and can be taken before consuming lactose-containing foods or beverages. These supplements provide the body with the necessary lactase enzyme to break down lactose, enabling individuals with lactose intolerance to enjoy dairy products without experiencing discomfort. It’s important to follow the instructions and recommended dosage when using lactase supplements. I find that there are certain foods that I simply crave and cannot avoid completely. This includes ice cream in the summer and cheese in a hamburger. When I can plan ahead I will take a lactase supplement to help mitigate the discomfort after the fact.
W4: Ice cream is one of the foods I cannot stop eating and so I usually pop a capsule with lactase enzymes to help me digest the lactose in milk.