Cheese, ice cream, yogurt and milk. All of these common and delicious foods contain dairy, but can you eat them?
If you experience lactose intolerance, then the answer might be no.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “people with lactose intolerance are unable to fully digest the sugar (lactose) in milk. As a result, they have diarrhea, gas and bloating after eating or drinking dairy products.”
However, lactose intolerance is not the same thing as having a milk allergy, registered dietician nutritionist at UF Health Shands, Sarah Tannen, said. “A milk allergy is an immune response to one or more of the proteins in milk, and is typically found in the rst year of life.”
If you have only just started to experience issues with foods that contain dairy, you probably don’t have a milk allergy. But, it’s not uncommon for a lactose intolerance to develop later in life, Tannen said.
“People may begin to notice intolerance symptoms slowly over time or they may notice it suddenly if they reintroduce dairy products back into their diet after not consuming it for a while,” she said.
As we get older, most people experience a decrease in lactase production. This decrease may be caused by several things and is different for everyone. The first potential reason is your genetic makeup.
Lactose intolerance can be hereditary, Tannen said. If both of your parents contain a mutation in their genes or lactase enzyme, it can result in development of lactose intolerance either at infancy or later on in life.
Another reason for lactose intolerance is ethnic background. For some cultures around the world that have had a lot of dairy in their diets, being able to digest lactose became a trait necessary for survival. Those who could not digest lactose would get sick more often, and therefore, would be more susceptible to disease, leading to earlier deaths.
Those who could eat dairy had a better chance at survival, and now their descendants are your friends and family who can comfortably eat cheese and ice cream without running to the porcelain throne soon after.
However, if you have lactose intolerance, you’re not alone.
“It is said that about 65% of the world’s population has a decreased ability to digest the sugar in milk,” Tannen said. “Lactose intolerance is more commonly found in those of Mediterranean, African, Asian, Hispanic or Southern European decent.”
If none of these reasons seem relevant to you, another reason you have lactose intolerance could be due to an underlying gastrointestinal illness, like Crohn’s disease, or bacterial overgrowth, she said.
Though the symptoms of lactose intolerance are not dire, they’re uncomfortable and can really restrict your diet. Tannen says that there are ways around this.
She suggests choosing foods that are lower in lactose, such as Greek yogurt, hard cheeses, like cheddar and Swiss, and lactose-free milk. Alternative types of milk, such as almond milk, soy milk and rice milk, are also ways to get your x.
If you just can’t help but eat that ice cream cone, or chow down on a slice of pizza, taking a lactose enzyme supplement, like Lactaid, along with other non-dairy foods can help lessen the symptoms and slow down digestion.
By taking these precautions, you should be able to enjoy a diet fairly similar to what you always have. Just remember to check the nutrition label for any hidden sources of lactose that could sneak up on you!