I’m hearing more and more about people who are eliminating dairy from their diet for one reason or another. If you’re eliminating because you’ve read that milk contains all sorts of icky things, read my previous Milk Myths post here. Blaming lactose on bloating, gas, and diarrhea is a common one, so we’re having a lot of people eliminate dairy products from their diet to help manage this. About 65% of our population has a decreased ability to digest lactose, but that looks very different for each and every person. This is why symptom journaling is very important to determine what may be causing you your intestinal upset along with determining if lactose is the problem, and how much lactose may be the problem!
Lactose is a sugar found in milk and milk products, it is also added to some processed and prepared foods like salad dressings. Lactose intolerance is when your body has trouble digesting lactose because you lack the enzyme lactase which is needed for your body to break down (digest) lactose. Without this enzyme, or not having enough of this enzyme there remains undigested lactose which sits in the large intestine (colon) and gets fermented by bacteria. This often results in gas, bloating, cramps, diarrhea, and nausea.
If you experience any of the above symptoms while consuming dairy foods, you may have lactose intolerance and could benefit from reducing the amount of lactose in your diet. Your symptoms will often depend on the amount of lactose you eat in one sitting and the amount of lactase enzyme you have available in your body to break it down. Lactose intolerance is very different from a milk allergy.
- Milk, cheese or yogurt
- Milk solids or milk powder
- Malted milk
If you are lactose intolerant you may benefit from reducing the amount of lactose in your diet. Your symptoms depend on the amount of lactose you eat at one time and the amount of lactase enzyme in your body. This is why most people can tolerate some lactose in their diet. Remember, however, lactose intolerance is not an allergy to milk. A Milk Allergy is an immune reaction to the proteins in milk and all milk and milk containing products needs to be eliminated from the diet and avoided.
Here are some steps to help determine if you have a lactose intolerance:
- Keep a food and symptoms journal
- Track the foods and amounts you ate along with your symptoms (gas, bloating, nausea, diarrhea etc)
- Evaluate symptoms to determine if there is a common cause, ie. Diary.
- Eliminate lactose from your diet and evaluate if symptoms are present.
- Gradually add in small amounts of lactose-containing foods and assess symptoms, increase if no symptoms persist.
- Limit your intake of foods that cause you discomfort. You may be able to tolerate certain lactose-containing foods while other people with lactose intolerance cannot. You may only be able to tolerate a certain amount of lactose-containing foods in one sitting or day. Ie. Some individuals can tolerate ½ cup milk with no issues, however experience symptoms with 1 cup milk.
- Eat small amounts of foods or beverages that have lactose with your meals.
In Canada, Lactose-free means that there is no detectable lactose in the food using an acceptable method for measuring lactose. Lactose-reduced may be used to describe a product that has had the amount of lactose in the product reduced by at least 25%.
There are some foods that are lower lactose-containing foods which can usually be eaten in small amounts (60-125mL or 14-1/2 cup) and cause most people with lactose intolerance no issues. These foods include:
- cheese cottage
- hard cheese (cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, Colby, Mozzarella, Monterey Jack)
- Blue Cheese
- chocolate milk
- sour cream.
When reducing or eliminating lactose from one’s diet, most are concerned about consuming enough calcium. The easiest way is to consume lactose-free milk and alternatives such as yogurt and cheese or calcium-fortified alternatives such as soy, almond, rice or hemp milk.
You can, however, get calcium from other food sources such as:
- Calcium-fortified orange juice
- Vegetables such as bok choy, broccoli, rapini and kale
- Canned fish with bones such as salmon, sardines and anchovies
- Soybean-based foods such as edamame, soy nuts and tofu
- Beans like chickpeas, kidney beans, white, navy and pinto beans
- Nuts and seeds like almonds and sesame seeds
- Blackstrap molasses
For all your dairy lovers out there, if eliminating isn’t an ideal option, you can also take the lactase enzyme by liquid or capsule form which can provide you additional lactase to help you break down lactose and thus reduce symptoms!
If your suffering from gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, please, reach out for guidance. I can help you get clear on your triggers, get you back to you and finally feeling normal again!
For you non-dairy readers, what’s your favourite milk alternative and how do you use it??