WHAT IS LACTOSE?
Lactose is a sugar found in milk products and a variety of other foods. In addition to dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and ice cream, lactose is also present in baked goods, cereals, salad dressings, candy and snacks. You’ll even find it in about 20% of prescription medications.
WHO SHOULD GO ON A LACTOSE-FREE DIET?We all need an enzyme called lactase. Lactase found in our gastrointestinal system breaks down lactose so our body can absorb it for nourishment. Some people do not have enough of lactase to properly digest lactose. Undigested lactose will pass further along in the gastrointestinal system where is digested into lactic acid and other gasses. This process creates gas, bloating, abdominal cramping and diarrhea.
People who already have digestive related issues or conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease or celiac disease may have decreased lactase activity. Those who have had bowel resections, those who are taking certain medications, and who are alcoholics may also be at a higher risk. If you believe you might have a problem with lactose, contact your doctor for proper diagnosis.
HOW DO I AVOID LACTOSE?Sometimes a lactose intolerance doesn’t mean you have to avoid it entirely. It is best to completely avoid all dairy products for at least two weeks and then slowly add back dairy products in small amounts to determine which dairy products you can tolerate and at what quantities. (See Dairy-Free Diet for more information.) You may find that lactose is better digested when consumed with a meal.
Products labeled lactose free have lactase added to aid in digestion. The most common products to be labeled lactose free are lactose-free milk, lactose-free ghee, lactose-free yogurt, lactose-free ice cream and lactose-free coffee creamer. Products labeled dairy-free will also be safe for you to consume. Butter with ingredients such as cream and salt will contain very little lactose and is generally tolerated well.
There are also lactase tables or capsules that you can eat before consuming dairy products that contain lactose.