Many of us complain of stomach disorders after milk consumption and yet, many can consume large quantities without any complaints. When a person consumes milk, an enzyme named lactase breaks down lactose (the milk sugar) into simple sugars (glucose and galactose) in the small intestine. People suffering from lactose intolerance are unable to produce enough lactase. Undigested lactose persists in the gut, gets broken down by bacteria and stimulates gas production, bloating, stomach cramps and diarrhoea. Lactose intolerance is very common but not dangerous.
How do people become lactose intolerant?
People (suffering from Celiac or Crohn’s disease — an inflammatory disease of upper small intestine) have a reduced level of lactase so they become intolerant. Some antibiotics cause short-span intolerance by hindering the intestine’s ability to produce lactase. Few children get temporary lactose intolerance after diarrhoea, which gets better after a few days.As age advances, the body stops producing lactase and most people become lactose intolerant over time.People from Asian, African and Native American backgrounds are more likely to acquire lactose intolerance at a young age.
If you experience abdominal pain, diarrhoea, flatulence, bloating, bad breath and nausea after consuming milk or milk products you may be lactose intolerant. However other conditions may show the same symptoms. Also, the severity of symptoms varies from person to person and is dependent upon the amount of lactose that can be tolerated. A simple method of diagnosing lactose intolerance is the ‘milk challenge’. A person fasts overnight and then drinks a glass of fat-free milk in the morning. Nothing else is eaten or drunk for the next few hours. The milk produces symptoms within a few hours of ingestion in a lactose intolerant person. If there are no symptoms, or if symptoms are milder, then lactose intolerance is not the culprit.
For lactose intolerance, what should you avoid?
Milk and foods made from milk are the only natural sources of lactose. However, lactose is hidden in foods to which it has been added. Foods containing lactose include:
1.Bakery products like bread
2.Processed breakfast cereals
4.Candies and cakes
7.Mixture for pancakes, biscuits, and cookies
Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre
Dietary guidelines for lactose intolerance
1.Making adjustments in the diet can control lactose intolerance. Most people can tolerate small or even moderate amounts of lactose. It often requires eliminating major milk-containing products to get relief from the symptoms. Thus, it may be necessary to eliminate only milk, curd, paneer and ice cream. Although curd comprises of large amounts of lactose, it is often digested well by lactose intolerant people. This is because the culture present in yoghurt digests the lactose, so it does not cause problems.
2.The long-term health aftermath of lactose intolerance is calcium deficiency, which can lead to osteoporosis. To cover up, include broccoli, methi, palak, rajma, kabuli chana, cabbage, tofu, and fish in your diet and take calcium supplements.
3.Try a milk substitute like soya milk.
4.At times when you cannot avoid milk, have it with something else to avoid acute symptoms. For example, if you are served a milkshake, eat a sandwich too. This reduces the severity of lactose intolerance.
5.While purchasing, read food labels carefully. Look not only for milk and lactose in contents but also for whey, curds, milk by-products, dry milk solids, and non-fat dry milk powder.
6.Drink a small quantity of milk at one time.
7.Drink milk with meals (if you are marginally lactose intolerance).
8.Try soya milk or non-dairy milk to ensure adequate calcium intake.
9.For most of the world’s adults, lactose intolerance is actually a normal condition. The best way to combat lactose intolerance is to have knowledge about the foods that cause its symptoms and also learning the ways to avoid them.