Milk and dairy products contain lactose, a kind of sugar that is broken down and digested by an enzyme produced in the small intestine called lactase. If you are lactose-intolerant, it means that the lactase enzyme is inadequate in your body. When you consume milk or dairy products they remain undigested and ferment in your stomach, leading you to experience a digestive problem.
Some of these reactions to milk sugars are similar to conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, milk-protein intolerance, and other digestive problems. If you think you are lactose-intolerant, it is advisable to consult with your doctor who may conduct some tests to arrive at a correct diagnosis.
There is no cure for lactose intolerance, but remember that it is a problem commonly experienced by many people and is not dangerous. With a few dietary trials and adjustments, it is possible to cut down on the discomfort created by lactose and still be able to enjoy some milk products to a certain extent.
Some people prefer to avoid milk products completely to deal with this problem. However, this may lead to calcium and other vitamin deficiencies. Try substituting milk with Soya-, Almond- or Coconut milk, lactose-free milk beverages, and milk made from rice, oats, etc. Lactose-free milk, for example, contains high levels of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and protein, and also contains vitamins A, B, K, and zinc. It may be possible to digest a small amount of milk or other dairy product, to begin with, when taken along with a meal. However, do avoid high-lactose foods like heavy cream, condensed milk, ice cream, cottage- and ricotta cheese, sour cream or cheese spreads.
With some self-experiments and food trials, you will gain a clear understanding of the foods that are totally unsuitable to you, and whether you can still have a little milk in your tea and coffee. In order to do this, cut out all milk and dairy products from your meals completely for two weeks. After this period, add them one at a time, gradually over the following days, and watch your symptoms or reactions to those foods and beverages.
By cancelling and reintroducing certain milk and dairy products alternatively, you will know the problem foods that cause you discomfort.
When you stop having milk and milk-based products, you may not be getting sufficient calcium and Vitamin D from your restricted diet. These are ingredients essential to maintaining strong bones and teeth, regulate contractions in your muscles and heart, and ensure good blood circulation. You can still have a diet rich in calcium by regularly including in your meals:
You could also include Calcium or Vitamin D supplements and probiotics in your diet after consulting with your doctor or dietician about the ones suitable for you.
Speak to your doctor or dietician about introducing you to lactase supplements, or lactase substitutes, which replace the lactase in your body that your small intestine cannot produce or doesn’t produce adequately. These are available in the form of liquid drops or tablets and can be added to the milk products you are taking. Lactase substitutes can help you digest milk and dairy foods better.
Milk and lactose are often hidden substances that may not be listed separately on certain products so look out for food ingredients like whey, milk, cheese, cream, curds, or butter on the label. Some prescription medicines and those sold over the counter may contain lactose in a small quantity that may not be suitable for you, while ingredients like lactic acid, sodium lactate, and cocoa butter sound like they contain lactose but they don’t.
It is advisable to check with the pharmacist before you begin any course of medicine or supplement.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance can be controlled by the above simple steps of changing your diet and maintaining a healthy and positive attitude. It is also worth being open to including small sips of milk in your diet or trying out new food varieties with small quantities to increase calcium in your daily intake.