Recently I was asked what I would recommend to someone who was lactose intolerant. Presumably this person had been told they couldn’t have dairy because there is lactose in it. That’s a very thoughtful question and one that can’t be answered simply.
First- a quick science lesson. Lactose is the sugar naturally found in milk and many milk products. In order to digest it, the body makes an enzyme known as lactase. Since all bodies are different, some people do not make enough of the enzyme to break down lactose (milk sugar) adequately. This may cause some physical discomfort when consuming products that have lactose in them and is commonly known as “lactose intolerance”.
It’s important to be aware that there are different levels of sensitivity for those who are diagnosed as lactose intolerant and symptoms can vary. Many people choose to avoid all dairy products in order to eliminate those symptoms. But here’s some great news! The amount of lactose in dairy products are not all the same and there are some excellent strategies available for those who want to use dairy foods for their wealth of nutrition qualities or like myself, just for the meal variety and flavor.
- Try something new: Fluid milk tends to be higher in lactose that other dairy products. Consider drinking lactose free milk instead. This is real cow’s milk and provides the same essential nutrients as regular milk.
- Get cheesy: Most cheeses are lower in lactose and in turn will be easier to digest for someone with lactose intolerance. Great options like Cheddar, Mozzarella, Swiss, Colby and Monterey Jack are readily available at grocery stores.
- Yay for yogurt: Yogurts that contain live and active cultures can make it easier for the digestive system to digest lactose. With the incredible variety of yogurts on the market, it’s easy to find one that appeals to your taste buds and nutrition needs.
Whatever your preference, remember that being diagnosed with lactose intolerance does not mean that you have to give up your favorite dairy foods. While there are other choices available that provide essential nutrients including calcium or Vitamin D, and may contain both carbohydrate and quality protein, few are comparable as a complete package. Limiting an entire food group can make it more difficult to meet daily nutritional needs. Taking a second look at dairy choices that may meet those needs and at the same time reduce physical symptoms of lactose intolerance is a win win.