Lactose intolerance: do you have to avoid dairy completely?

Milk pouring into glass set on wooden table
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An estimated 30-50 million American adults experience lactose intolerance, many of which completely avoid all dairy products. However, is abstinence from dairy products necessary?

Lactose intolerance is characterized by a group of symptoms that occur after the consumption of dairy; it is due to the inability to break down lactose, the sugar found in milk and other dairy products. This inability to break down lactose is called lactose maldigestion. It’s a result of the body not producing enough lactase, which is an enzyme that digests lactose. Not everyone who has lactose maldigestion experiences symptoms, but those that do may suffer from abdominal pain, bloating, gas or diarrhea. With these uncomfortable symptoms, it’s no wonder why many would avoid products containing lactose. However, research indicates that it is often unnecessary to cut out dairy from the diet.

First, find out if it lactose intolerance if truly what you’re dealing with. Your doctor may use a hydrogen breath test to determine if lactose maldigestion is the cause. Most people with lactose intolerance can still include varying amounts of lactose in their diets without experiencing symptoms, and this is important because milk and dairy products contain vital nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D, that may otherwise go under-consumed. Try small amounts of milk with foods to slow digestion and help tolerance. While yogurt has lactose, it’s good bacteria helps to digest it, making it easier to tolerate, and since Greek yogurt is strained, it may have about half the lactose as regular yogurt. Also, try cheese, which has very little lactose (less than 1 gram). Don’t ditch the dairy. Seek a registered dietitian to help you introduce dairy back into your diet.  


Fruity Flatbread (Printable PDF)

4 (1.5 oz.) whole grain sandwich thins, halved

1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 cup lowfat vanilla yogurt

2 cups sliced fruit, fresh or canned (drained)

Heat oven to 375°F. Mix cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl; set aside. Lay out 8 sandwich thin halves on a cookie sheet and lightly coat each side with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle both sides of each piece with cinnamon and sugar. Bake for 6-8 minutes or until lightly browned; remove from oven and cool completely. Spread each piece with 1/8 cup yogurt. Top each piece with ¼ cup fruit.

Yield: 4 servings


Nutrition Facts (per serving): 220 calories, 4 grams fat, 210 milligrams sodium, 42 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams fiber, 8 grams protein


Source: National Dairy Council