Think you are lactose intolerant? Check out what the experts say.

By DeDe Hausmann

People who believe they are lactose intolerant can still enjoy dairy!!!  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) held a Consensus Development Conference on Lactose Intolerance and Health in February, 2010, and they had a panel of experts present compelling findings.

Dr. Robert P. Heaney, a researcher at Creighton University, says that lactose intolerance is often misunderstood.   He feels that by eliminating dairy from one’s diet, for any reason, will result in poor nutrition and can result in long-term health issues.  Others on the panel stated that those who feel they are lactose intolerant should try drinking and eating small amounts of dairy products (milk, cheese and yogurt) with snacks or meals but NOT ON AN EMPTY STOMACH.  They should also consume lactose-free dairy products.  Hard cheeses (such as as cheddar, provolone, and mozzarella) and yogurts may also be more easily digested.

So what’s the science behind lactose-intolerance?  Lactose is the natural sugar found in cow’s milk.   Some lack the lactase enzyme (found in the small intestine) that is needed to break lactose molecules into two simple sugars, glucose and galactose, which should then be absorbed in the bloodstream.  Without enough of the lactase enzyme, most of the lactose in dairy foods moves into the colon UNPROCESSED (not broken down), resulting in a person experiencing gas, bloating, and diarrhea. 

The NIH panel reminded consumers that many confuse lactose intolerance with other health conditions and people NEED TO BE TESTED BY A HEALTH PROFESSIONAL BEFORE ASSUMING THEY ARE LACTOES INTOLERANT.  Many on the panel agreed that most lactose intolerant people CAN DIGEST up to 12 grams of lactose (the amount found in an 8-ounce cup of milk) without problems.

Dr. Wilma J. Wooten, president of the San Diego Chapter of the National Medical Association (the nation’s largest group of African-American doctors), felt that those with lactose intolerance shouldn’t avoid dairy products because of the nutrient-rich package that low-fat and fat-free dairy products offer, including calcium, Vitamin D and seven other essential nutrients.

For those who ARE lactose-intolerant but want the nutrition benefits and enjoyable taste of dairy, try these simple steps:

  • Enjoy ¼ cup of milk with a full breakfast and a complete dinner.  Gradually work up to ½ cup and then to a full cup with meals.
  • Eat reasonable amounts of hard cheeses, such as Cheddar, Colby, Gouda, and Parmesan for most of the lactose is removed when milk is made into cheese.
  • Yogurt, because of live active cultures, is easier to digest.
  • Choose lactose-free dairy products.  There are LOADS of those products on the market.
  • There are also lactase pills or drops to consume when you know you are going to be enjoying dairy.

So many lactose intolerant people can enjoy dairy.  Just follow the tips and savor delicious and nutritious dairy foods to the last drop!!!

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