What is Lactose Intolerance?

You may have heard that being lactose intolerant means you can’t eat any dairy foods, ever. This simply isn’t true. In fact, many people who believe they are lactose intolerant unnecessarily eliminate dairy from their diet and miss out on all the nutritional benefits dairy has to offer.

So let’s get to the bottom of lactose intolerance by starting with the basics: lactose. Lactose is a type of natural sugar found in milk and other dairy products, and lactose intolerance occurs when your body does not make enough of an enzyme called lactase. Lactase is what breaks down, or digests, lactose. Lactose intolerance is not an allergy to milk.

The symptoms of lactose intolerance can range from moderate to severe, depending on how much lactase your body actually produces. People with lactose intolerance typically experience bloating, cramps, gas, diarrhea or nausea within 30 minutes to 2 hours of consuming dairy. However, because there are other common conditions, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), that cause almost identical symptoms, talking to your doctor is the best way to determine if you are lactose intolerant. Hint: many doctors will assume you’re lactose intolerant based on your symptoms; so ask for a test to be sure – your symptoms could mean something else.

The good news is, even if you are lactose intolerant, you can still enjoy dairy foods. You can try lactose-free milk (and ice cream!), or you can try to reintroduce dairy into your diet using these simple tips from the National Dairy Council:

SIP IT.     Start with a small amount of milk daily and increase slowly over several days or weeks to build your tolerance. Consuming solid food with small amounts of milk can also help your system to adjust.

TRY IT.     Opt for lactose-free milk and milk products, like Lactaid. These real milk products have little to no lactose and provide the same nutrients as regular dairy foods. And they taste great!

TOP IT.     Top sandwiches or crackers with natural cheeses like Cheddar, Colby, Queso Blanco, Monterey Jack, Mozzarella and Swiss. These cheeses contain less than 0.1 grams of lactose per serving.

SPOON IT.     Enjoy yogurt. Both traditional yogurt and Greek-style yogurt contain live and active cultures that help digest lactose.

And here’s a lactose-free Milk Chocolate Bundt Cake recipe just in time for Valentine’s Day!