Regretting that slice of pizza or double-scoop ice cream cone?
If you’ve ever felt bloated, gassy or just plain unwell after a dish of ice cream or a meal laden with cheese, then you may well know the discomfort of lactose intolerance.
“People with lactose intolerance are unable to fully digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and milk products,” says Emilie Vandenberg, a registered dietitian nutritionist with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.
It’s caused by a lack of a certain enzyme.
To digest lactose, your body must produce enough lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose into two simple sugars: glucose and galactose, Vandenberg explains.
“Most babies and children have no trouble producing enough lactase, but as we age, we produce less lactase. This leads to lactose intolerance for a lot of adults. Approximately 65% of adults have some degree of lactose intolerance.”
There are two types of lactose intolerance.
Nneka Ricketts-Cameron, a registered dietitian with Orlando Health in Florida, explains that lactose intolerance can be divided into two types: primary and secondary. “Primary lactose intolerance is due to the lack of or decreased production of the digestive enzyme lactase that aids in the digestion of lactose.”
Secondary lactose intolerance “can be caused by injury to the mucosal surface of the intestines since lactase is produced at the end of our intestinal villi,” she explains. Intestinal villi are the small, fingerlike tendrils that line the entire length of the inside of your small intestine. They absorb nutrients from the foods you eat and draw them into the bloodstream where they can move onward to other places in the body where those nutrients can be best used.
Secondary lactose intolerance can occur as the result of several conditions, including:
— Viral infections.
There are also varying degrees of lactose intolerance.
“Some people may have absolutely zero lactase production, while others have low levels of lactase production,” Ricketts-Cameron says. “Therefore, it’s possible for someone with low-lactase production to tolerate one or two servings of lactose-containing foods without symptoms. However, they may experience symptoms if they exceed two servings or increase their frequency of lactose intake,” she explains.
There are five primary signs of lactose intolerance.
If you develop the following symptoms, usually with 30 minutes to two hours after consuming foods that contain lactose, you may be dealing with lactose intolerance.
— Gas and/or flatulence.
Removing lactose-containing foods can help ease symptoms.
“I advise people who are lactose intolerant to avoid lactose-containing foods, not necessarily dairy-containing foods,” Ricketts-Cameron explains.
Common lactose-containing culprits include:
— Cow’s milk.
— Goat’s milk.
— Ice cream.
— Creamy soups.
— Salad dressings.
— Instant potatoes.
Removing these foods or substituting lactose-free versions may help you feel better. But Ricketts-Cameron cautions that when you eliminate most dairy products, that could cut into your calcium intake. To avoid that, select alternative food items that have been fortified with calcium, such as juices, and add other high-calcium foods, such as dark leafy green vegetables, tofu, almonds, figs and salmon.
Not all dairy foods cause symptoms.
While dairy foods are common culprits, not all milk-based foods or foods that contain milk have lactose. “The good thing is that there are some dairy products that are low in lactose,” Ricketts-Cameron says.
— Hard cheeses.
— Ricotta cheese.
— Cream cheese.
— Yogurt with live cultures.
“People with lactose intolerance tend to tolerate these foods well,” she says.
Select lactose-free versions.
If you love dairy and don’t want to let go of some of the foods that your body struggles to digest, see if there’s a lactose-free version available. “There are also many lactose-free dairy products like lactose-free milk, lactose-free ice cream and low-lactose cheese,” Ricketts-Cameron says.
Vandenberg notes that some products that contain milk or milk derivatives may also cause symptoms for some, so get into the habit of reading food labels to check for any potentially problematic ingredients.
Take a lactase enzyme.
If you can’t avoid a food or meal that contains lactose, you may want to consider taking a supplement that contains lactase enzymes. These over-the-counter supplements typically come as a pill or chewable tablet and “should be taken with the first bite of a lactose-containing food,” Ricketts-Cameron says. “These help to give you the enzyme to digest lactose. However, those with little to no lactase production may still experience symptoms after taking the enzyme if they consume too much lactose.”
So maybe only get one scoop instead of two on that ice cream cone.
5 signs of lactose intolerance:
— Gas and/or flatulence.
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