Is milk making you miserable? Lactose intolerance is far more common than you think. Here is what you need to know, and what alternatives you can use.
The pleasure of gulping down a glass of cold milk or munching on a soft cheese sandwich could turn to distress, discomfort and embarrassment should you be one of the millions who suffer from lactose intolerance (LI).
While mother’s milk is ideal for infants, once we are introduced to cow’s milk, this wholesome substance can become a digestive hazard in early, mid or late childhood, when many people lose the ability to digest this perfect food.
The result isn’t dangerous, but the symptoms can make you think twice before indulging in anything dairy-related. So if you feel bloated or suff er from cramps or gas after a meal that includes dairy products, read on.
WHAT IS LACTOSE ANYWAY?
Lactose is a type of sugar found in the milk of all mammals and all dairy products. Sugar is a very important fuel source for our bodies, but lactose needs to be broken down to enable the body to use it. This is done by an enzyme known as lactase, which is found in our small intestine.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU ARE LACTOSE INTOLERANT?
A basic sign that you may be lactase deficient is bloating when consuming dairy products. Other common symptoms include flatulence, nausea, cramps and diarrhoea, which may begin a short while after ingesting dairy foods that contain lactose.
The trouble with LI is that the undigested lactose is not absorbed by the body and begins to ferment in the intestine. The result is discomfort and flatulence, symptoms that are often ignored or attributed to something else. The severity of the symptoms depends on how much lactose you can tolerate.
DIAGNOSING LACTOSE INTOLERANCE
A diagnosis can be made by looking at a history of your intestinal symptoms after milk ingestion or by laboratory tests. The most common tests are a breath hydrogen test (you consume a sweet drink containing lactose and are then breath tested for signs of lactose digestion) or a stool test.
SOME KNOWN CAUSES OF LACTOSE INTOLERANCE
- A lactase deficiency that has developed over time. This is the most common cause and occurs when one’s ability to digest lactose declines slowly after weaning or in early childhood
- Injury to the small intestine or digestive diseases, which can hinder the production of lactase
- Lactose intolerance may be present in people who suff er from irritable bowel syndrome
- An inability to produce lactase from birth
- A bout of diarrhoea, especially in children, can lead to temporary lactose intolerance, but lactase activity usually returns to normal once it’s passed
NOTE: Lactose intolerance is not an allergy. A milk allergy has nothing to do with an inability to digest lactose, but is the result of the body’s immune system fighting the proteins in milk.
LIVING WITH LACTOSE INTOLERANCE
While there are no cures for LI, there are ways to cope with the condition. Because diff erent individuals can handle different amounts of lactose, working out how much you can tolerate is a learning process and it is only by trial and error that you can determine how much you are able to handle. Most lactose-intolerant adults can consume small amounts of lactose.
Some milk products, such as aged cheese and yoghurt, are usually well tolerated because the lactose content is low.
In fact, yoghurts that contain live probiotics may actually aid the digestion of lactose. (Not all yoghurts contain suffi cient amounts of probiotics, which are compromised by preservatives.
Look for Woolworths yoghurt with HowaruTM probiotic culture, which contains no added preservatives and guarantees the number of probiotic cultures per 100ml serving.)
CATCH UP ON YOUR CALCIUM
Drinking milk and eating dairy products is a trusted way to obtain calcium, so if you are avoiding dairy, catch up by taking a supplement or eating calcium-rich food such as canned salmon with bones, sardines, broccoli, spinach, nuts, seeds or tofu.
LOOK AT THE LABELS
People with lactose intolerance need to read food-ingredient labels carefully if they wish to avoid consuming lactose.
Woolworths food labelling makes this easy with an allergen bar that tells you if a product contains cow’s milk. In general, ingredients are listed in descending order according to their weight contribution to the product.
Therefore, if lactose, milk, milk solids or whey is listed last, it contributes the smallest weight to the product, and vice versa.
The following ingredients contain lactose in varying quantities: butter, cheese, cream, dried milk, milk, milk solids, powdered milk and whey.
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?
Woolworths offers a number of long-life or fresh lactose-free alternatives. These include: organic soya milk, a range of soya smoothies, soya custard, chocolate flavouried soya drinks as well as organic and regular rice milk.
For more dairy-free options visit your local health store where you will find alternatives such as soya cream, nut milks, oat milk and quinoa milk powder.
QUICK DAIRY SUBSTITUTE TIPS
- You can replace yoghurt or sour cream in a recipe with creamed silken tofu with a dash of lemon juice mixed in.
- If the recipe calls for buttermilk, mix 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white wine vinegar with 1 cup of plain soy milk.
- Recipe calling for evaporated milk? Use 125 ml hhot water mixed with 1/2 cup dairy-free powder
READ MORE IN HEALTH
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