Clinical Nutrition · Community Nutrition · Topic of the Week

TOTW: Lactose Intolerance


Hello everyone!  It’s been a crazy week so far.  I’m currently living in Portland with my aunt’s in-laws, so my uncle’s parents.  My cousin’s other grandparents.  Following me?  Good.

Anyways, so I am with them for this week and the next while I have my rotation at the dairy council.  I’ll tell you more about that this weekend though.  Right now I’m in my “grandparents” kitchen writing this on my laptop.  I don’t have internet here unless I get on their computer.  Needless to say, I’m probably using a lot of data on my phone…

So since I’m at the dairy council, a large amount of the focus is, you guessed it, dairy. My first project I worked on this week was a blog post dedicated to a consumer question that gets brought up frequently.  Thankfully, they didn’t make me write about breakfast.  I think that topic is over exhausted.  Instead, I go to write about lactose intolerance!  Something I have personal experience with.  I found some really interesting things so I thought I would share them with you!

Me and lactose intolerance became friends in senior year in college.  I started having some uncomfortable symptoms typically associated with a food intolerance.  Since I was a nutrition major, I knew it could either be something minor or something major, so I went ahead and went to the doctor about it.  After a few visits and a few trial elimination diets, it was concluded that I have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and that lactose seems to be a big culprit in that.

Now IBS is a whole other topic, but basically it’s very individual.  Since I first pinpointed that as my problem I have discovered that it rears its ugly head during times of stress.  I also have discovered that when I’m stressed lactose tends to make things a whooooole lot worse!

So what exactly is lactose intolerance?  Lactose intolerance is sensitivity to lactose, the sugar in milk.  Those who are lactose intolerant have low levels of lactase, the enzyme in the intestine that is responsible for the breakdown of lactose during digestion.  This difficulty with digestion produces symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating, and constipation.

It would make sense to eliminate dairy from the diet then, right?  Well, this actually isn’t necessary!

Every lactose intolerant person out there should be doing a happy dance right now.

A few dairy products, like cheese, cheese, and Greek yogurt are fairly low in lactose and often can be tolerated well.  There is also thought that the live, active cultures in yogurt help to digest lactose.  Of course, there are also lactase tablets that can be taken before meals with milk or ice cream and a wide variety of lactose free dairy products are available now.

Dairy products are an important part of a balanced diet.  They contain calcium, vitamins, minerals, and protein that are difficult to replace if the entire food group is eliminated.  For that reason, it’s really important for those who are lactose intolerant to find a balance of quantities and types of dairy products that work for them.

You should also see your doctor before you self diagnose yourself!  There could be something else going on that could be otherwise overlooked.  Proper diagnosis is essential.  Lactose intolerance is not a dairy allergy but since they could potentially present similar symptoms, it’s important to eliminate that possibility before you start eating dairy again.  Those with a dairy allergy should NOT eat dairy!

Studies have found that those who completely eliminate diary from their diet have a lower quality diet.  If you can include it, it is actually much more important than you might realize!


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