*[Image Goes Here]* Think you are lactose intolerant? Read on before deciding to remove all dairy products from your diet.
Milk contains a natural sugar called lactose. People who are lactose intolerant, do not have enough of the enzyme lactase needed to completely digest the lactose. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include gas, stomach cramps, nausea and diarrhea occurring within a few hours after drinking milk. These symptoms can vary in intensity according to a person’s degree of lactose intolerance.
If you have always been a milk drinker and suddenly begin to get gas or diarrhea, there is little reason to suspect lactose intolerance. You don’t become lactose intolerant overnight, unless you have a sudden bout of food poisoning, in which case this kind of lactose intolerance is almost always temporary.
If you suspect lactose intolerance, the best thing to do is consult your medical doctor. He or she can give you a simple non-invasive test to find out for sure.
Lactose intolerance is genetically determined and is more common in adolescents and adults than children. This is because babies produce plenty of lactase needed to digest their mother’s milk.
People whose ancestors come from traditional dairy farming areas, such as Europe, the African plains and the Siberian steppes, generally have no problems with digesting lactose. Even among populations thought to be lactose intolerant, only one in five is. In reality, few people are unable to tolerate the amount of lactose found in a single glass (250mL) of milk.
If you have been diagnosed as lactose intolerant you may not have to give up dairy products. Most people can still enjoy a moderate amount of milk, especially when it’s consumed with a meal. Also, different diary products contain different amounts of lactose. Yogurt contains live bacteria which break down the lactose for you, and cheese, (eg. Cheddar, Swiss and Parmesan), contain almost no lactose at all.
Research also shows that many people become less lactose intolerant over time. Even people who have never drunk milk and would be considered lactose intolerant can build up a tolerance in as little as a few weeks. The trick is to start slow and easy, introducing milk products into the diet a little at a time.
Experiment to learn what your level of lactose tolerance is. Start by including smaller amounts of dairy products with meals or in foods and increase the amounts slowly. If you continually experience discomfort, limit your intake of that food. Try using commercially available lactase enzyme drops or tablets to reduce the lactose in milk or dairy products.
Although the first reaction to lactose intolerance symptoms is to avoid all dairy products, this may not be a good idea. Milk products play an important role in a balanced diet. Milk products contain 15 essential vitamins and minerals and supply more than 75% of the richest, natural source of easy-to-absorb calcium in the Canadian diet.
If you have been diagnosed with lactose intolerance, it is best to have your medical doctor refer you to a Registered Dietitian. He or she can help ensure you are meeting your recommended daily intake of nutrients.
Information adapted from the Dairy Bureau of Canada. For more information visit www.purelydairy.org.
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