Are you lactose intolerant or avoiding dairy because it gives you digestive upset? The good news is you probably don’t need to restrict all dairy products.
Dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese are good sources of calcium, which is important for bone health. Dairy foods are also rich in important nutrients such as protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B 12, potassium, zinc, choline, magnesium, and selenium. These nutrients contribute to strong bones and teeth, the growth and maintenance of cells in the body, metabolism, and general health and wellbeing. Obtaining these nutrients from other dietary sources is possible, however dairy is an easy way to regularly obtain these nutrients and is often more bioavailable (the body absorbs these nutrients easily) than plant-based sources.
Cutting all dairy from the diet is not only unnecessary but may leave you at risk of nutritional deficiencies which may impact bone health, muscular health, and heart health.
What is Lactose intolerance?
Lactose is a naturally occurring carbohydrate (or sugar) in dairy milk (including cows, goat, and sheep). If you are lactose intolerant, your body is unable to digest lactose or has a reduced capacity to do so due to low levels of lactase (the enzyme that breaks down the lactose sugar into glucose and galactose molecules).
Lactose intolerance may lead to digestive discomfort, with symptoms such as gas & bloating, stomach pain, or diarrhoea. If you believe that dairy products are causing these symptoms (which is different to a dairy allergy), it’s worth working with a Dietitian to discover your own personal lactose-sensitivity levels so that you can still enjoy the dairy products you love.
Do I need to go completely Lactose-free?
Most people with lactose intolerance can tolerate some lactose in their diet. Hard cheeses such as cheddar and parmesan are naturally very low in lactose (you don’t need to buy the expensive lactose-free version!). Yoghurt is generally well tolerated, as the bacterial cultures help to break down the lactose. Many lactose-free milks are available in the supermarket, and ‘lactase enzyme’ tablets are available at pharmacies to aid digestion.
If you choose to switch to a plant-based milk, such as almond or oat, check to see if it has been fortified with calcium.
Talk to your dietitian about the best lactose-free options for your health requirements.