Lactose intolerance is a common subject discussed these days. So, what it lactose and what exactly is lactose intolerance? And how do you know if you have it?
What is Lactose?
Lactose is the carbohydrate that occurs naturally in milk from cows, goats and sheep. Human milk also naturally contains lactose which does not change when the mother avoids foods containing lactose. In your small intestine, there is an enzyme called lactase that is responsible for splitting lactose into smaller parts which can be absorbed by the body. If a person has lactose intolerance, it means that lactase is not present in sufficient amounts to readily breakdown lactose. Subsequently, this undigested lactose moves on from the small intestine into the large intestine or colon where it is broken down by bacteria and it is this process that leads to symptoms such as bloating, wind, cramps and diarrhoea.
How do you know if you are Lactose intolerant?
There are different types of lactose intolerance. They can be present at birth or occur later in life due to genetics or secondary to other disorders such as Crohns disease, Coeliac disease or gastroenteritis. Many people who suffer from symptoms such as bloating, wind or stomach pain believe they may be lactose intolerant and avoid dairy foods. It is important to consider that these symptoms may in fact be due to other conditions, therefore it is advisable to seek medical advice and not self-diagnose. If you suspect you may be lactose intolerant, your health care practitioner can perform tests such as a breath hydrogen test to confirm the diagnosis.
It is a common misconception that lactose intolerance means no dairy, however most people with a diagnosed lactose intolerance can still consume dairy without experiencing symptoms.
This is good news as dairy is one of the five food groups and an important source of calcium, vitamin D, protein and B vitamins. Dairy foods that contain low or no levels of lactose such as yoghurt, low lactose milks and hard cheeses are usually well tolerated by persons with lactose intolerance.
If dairy products are however still causing unwanted side effects or you choose to avoid them for other reasons – then let’s look at what are the alternative sources of calcium and the quantity required to maintain necessary levels are for healthy bones and teeth.
Where can I find calcium other than in dairy foods
The main calcium contenders are milk, yoghurt and cheese, but dairy shouldn’t be the only dietary pit stop to fill up on this nutrient. Leafy greens, seafood, legumes and fruit also contain calcium and many foods and drinks are fortified with the mineral. See table A for more details.
Are non-dairy milk drinks as good for you as milk?
In short, the answer is that they can be if you know what to look for. When it comes to milk alternatives look for those that have been fortified with calcium as they contain almost as much calcium as dairy milk. Choose unsweetened varieties by checking the label for added sweeteners such as cane sugar, agave syrup or rice malt syrup as these add unnecessary sugar to the diet and increase the kilojoule content.
Make sure you are getting adequate amounts of calcium
Calcium is needed for our heart, muscles and nerves to function properly and for blood to clot. Inadequate calcium can significantly contribute to the development of osteoporosis. Just remember to try and pair non-dairy sources of calcium with vitamin D because the body needs vitamin D to help absorb calcium.
Non dairy milk options
At Healthy Life, our in-store health care practitioners can advise on non-dairy options such as Soy Milk, Almond Milk, Rice Milk and Coconut Milk - and which is most suitable for you.