Lactose intolerance or sensitivity is the inability to digest the natural sugar lactose that’s found primarily in dairy foods. Some people do not have enough of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the sugar within their digestive system. Lactose sensitivity symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, gas and uncomfortable bloating. This food sensitivity can be difficult to diagnosis since symptoms can be attributed to a range of health issues. Watch as The Doctors explain lactose intolerance.
Only a doctor can diagnosis this food sensitivity. Those who self-diagnose may deprive themselves of critical vitamins and minerals that dairy provides. As a result, they may inadvertently put themselves at risk for certain diseases. For example, three daily servings of dairy foods provide the calcium, potassium, vitamin D and other vitamins and minerals necessary for lowering the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, osteoporosis, obesity, diabetes and some cancers.
Are you unsure whether dairy may be the culprit of uncomfortable symptoms? Take this Dairy Digestion Test to see whether you have a problem with lactose. Then, follow up with your physician for a proper diagnosis. Or, come prepared to your next doctor’s visit with a daily food journal, including the time, quantity and type of food you consumed, and the symptoms you experienced.
- Dairy foods are a major source of calcium, providing 72 percent of the calcium available in the U.S. food supply (National Dairy Council)
- Milk and other dairy foods are the preferred source of calcium, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Medical Association. A person would need to consume 8 cups of spinach, nearly 5 cups of red beans or 3 cups of broccoli to get the same amount of calcium in 1 cup of milk.
- The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy foods each day for Americans ages 9 and older, and 2.5 daily servings for children ages 4 to 8 years and two servings for young children ages 2 to 3. A serving of dairy equates to one 8 ounce serving of milk, one 6-8 ounce yogurt or 1 ½ ounces of cheese.
- African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native American Indians are at a greater risk of for chronic diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. According to research, a calcium deficiency can contribute to these diseases.
- 24 percent of African Americans reported themselves as being lactose intolerant in a 2004 National Media Association study, but a staggering 86 percent of African Americans consume only half of the recommended daily amount of calcium.
People who are sensitive to lactose should avoid all dairy foods. Most people who are lactose intolerant can eat some dairy foods, such as lactose-reduced or lactose-free milk, aged hard cheeses like Cheddar or Monterrey Jack, and yogurt. New research shows most lactose sensitive individuals can drink up to two glasses of regular milk a day with no symptoms if consumed in small quantities with food. Cooking with milk, yogurt or cheese is an easy way to get the health benefits of dairy and avoid uncomfortable symptoms. The key is to build slowly and know your limit. Learn more in this NOLA.com article.
Being lactose intolerant means you are allergic to milk. Many people confuse lactose intolerance with a milk allergy. The truth is milk allergies are extremely rare. Only about 1 percent of adults and 3 percent of children are allergic to milk. The good news is most children typically grow out of a milk allergy in their first few years. Lactose intolerance is not a disease or allergy – it is simply the digestive system’s inability to break down the milk sugar, lactose.
Calcium-fortified foods and supplements provide the same amount of calcium as any dairy food. No substitute can match the unique combination of nutrients delivered in dairy foods. To get the same amount of calcium provided in 1 cup of milk, you would need to eat 3 cups of broccoli or 12 slices of whole wheat bread. Plus, calcium in vegetables, grains and supplements is not as easily absorbed by the body, making it more difficult to meet the recommended calcium intake.