You and many others suffer from lactose intolerance. Lactose is the name of the sugar found in milk and lactose intolerance is caused by the absence of an enzyme to properly digest the lactose sugar found in dairy products. This condition is not hazardous to health but you certainly need to avoid all dairy products. The symptoms may vary from individual to individual but the most common ones are diarrhoea, gas, bloating, pain and cramps in the stomach.
Sources of Lactose
Lactose is found in dairy products, such as milk, yoghurt, cheese, laban, cream, etc. It is found in items on which the food label mentions milk, milk solids, milk powder, cream, buttermilk, malted milk, whey milk, curd, margarine, etc.
Hidden sources of lactose include breads, candy, cookies, cold cuts, hotdogs, sauces, gravies, dessert mixes, cake mixes, cream soup, frostings, cake icings, chocolate drink mixes and salad dressings, etc.
Healthy substitutes for milk
Look for lactose free or lactose reduced milk which is now available in super markets. Most lactose intolerant people can digest this milk. Several researches and studies have also indicated that lactose in certain types of yoghurt that contain live bacteria is better tolerated than lactose in other dairy products.
Apparently, the live bacteria found in some types of yoghurt manufacture an enzyme that digests lactose. Since the bacteria manufacture the enzyme, the human stomach doesn't have to do it. In other words, the bacteria contained in the yoghurt digest the lactose in the yoghurt. The bacteria contained in the yoghurt are "good" bacteria, not harmful to you. But the most important thing to note here is that not all brands of yoghurt contain the live bacteria that manufacture the crucial enzyme. Be sure to check yoghurt labels for contents.
How to handle dairy
Although the elimination of dairy products is the first and foremost step in preventing the symptoms of lactose intolerance, the new guidelines suggest that dairy foods should be tried to see which ones can be tolerated better than others. The symptoms of lactose intolerance can be indubitably unpleasant, but the condition does not damage the body (unless left totally unattended). Thus, dairy products that can be tolerated slightly better than others should be carefully included in the diet to ensure sufficient supply of calcium and other important nutrients.
•Start with a small portion of milk and observe as to when the symptoms develop. Judge yourself and set your own limits for how much lactose you can handle at one sitting.
•Never drink milk on an empty stomach or alone. Drink milk with other foods as solid foods will slow digestion and allow your body more time to digest the lactose which helps prevent symptoms.
•Go for cheese; as cheese (most of the lactose has been removed) is generally more easily digested and tolerated by many people with lactose intolerance.
•Enjoy yoghurt with live cultures (which provide the required enzyme to digest lactose) and the best bet is to let the yoghurt rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before eating which makes the healthy bacteria more active.
Monika Seth is a nutritionist and diet consultant specialising in weight loss at Al Raffah Hospital