Do you double over every time you eat ice-cream? Suffer gas and bloating after a large latte?
You may be suffering from lactose intolerance – the inability to digest a sugar called lactose, which is found in dairy products. This common condition affects up to 50 million Americans and approximately 65% of people worldwide.
What Causes Lactose Intolerance?
Usually, the body produces the enzyme lactase in the small intestine, which is capable of breaking down lactose. A decrease in the production of this enzyme will naturally contribute to the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Declining production of lactase tends to happen as we age, but it can also occur due to illness, injury or intestinal surgery. Your ethnicity can also predict your likelihood of being lactose intolerance – it is most common in people of African, Asian, Hispanic, and American Indian descent.
How Do I Know If I Am Lactose Intolerant?
If you suffer from symptoms like bloating, gas, stomach gurgling, pain or cramps, diarrhea, or vomiting after eating dairy, you may have lactose intolerance. These effects usually occur any time from 30 minutes to a few hours after dairy consumption. Headaches and migraines can also be indicators that dairy doesn’t agree with you.
Be sure to take note of hidden sources of lactose too, which include bread and other baked goods, pancake mixes, potato chips, cereals, soups, instant potatoes, artificial sweeteners, processed meats, and some medications and vitamin supplements.
Keeping a food diary and noting any patterns relating to digestive discomfort can help you determine if lactose is at the root of your problems. Your doctor should also be able to assist in a diagnosis.
It should be noted that lactose intolerance is very different from a milk allergy – a rarer but more serious condition.
8 Foods To Eat If You Have Lactose Intolerance:
Knowing what foods to reduce or avoid with lactose intolerance is easy – any dairy and dairy-containing products which trigger symptoms for you.
Choosing which foods to eat can be a little bit trickier. You need to ensure you are getting adequate levels of calcium, and other nutrients usually found in dairy.
Thankfully, once you know what to look for, meeting your daily requirements of these vitamins and minerals is easy.
Here are some of the most important foods for lactose intolerance sufferers:
These friendly bacteria help to colonize the gut, keeping pathogenic bacteria and viruses under control. Probiotics also aid in digestion and nutrient absorption, and may even help boost lactase production, allowing suffers to enjoy moderate amounts of dairy!
Studies have shown that taking probiotic supplements can alleviate symptoms of lactose intolerance by altering the activity of bacteria in the colon.
If you have never taken probiotic supplements before, start slowly and gradually increase your dose to reduce the digestive discomfort caused when these beneficial bugs establish themselves in the gut.
Increase the effectiveness of probiotics by consuming some prebiotic foods too. These non-digestible carbohydrates – which include artichoke, asparagus, bananas, chicory, garlic, onions, and tomatoes – ‘feed’ the probiotics, and encourage them to grow and multiply in your gut.
2. Fermented Dairy & Other Cultured Foods
Kefir is a fermented (or cultured) milk which is loaded with probiotics. Surprisingly, it is very well tolerated by many with a lactase deficiency.
One study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, found that probiotic-rich yogurt and kefir can improve lactose digestion. Participants reported that the severity of flatulence was reduced by between 54% and 71% after consuming these products.
There are many other fermented foods that can also aid digestion, including in the digestion of dairy. Learn how to make your own kefir and other fermented foods here.
3. Alternative Sources Of Calcium
A lack of calcium in the diet can seriously compromise bone health. This mineral is also vital for the nervous system, muscles, and heart.
Although milk is the poster child when it comes to bone health, there is plenty of evidence to show that milk consumption doesn’t necessarily benefit bones – with a direct correlation seen between osteoporosis and high dairy consumption.
In fact, the Nurses’ Health Study found that women who ate lots of dairy products had higher rates of bone fractures than women who rarely consumed dairy.
In addition, some dairy free sources of calcium, like kale, have higher levels of bioavailable calcium than cows milk – so you needn’t worry about bone health if you go dairy free.
Good sources of calcium include tofu, canned sardines, kale, collard greens, broccoli, tahini, and fortified drinks like orange juice and nut milks.
There are plenty of other ways to protect your bone health too – discover them all here.
4. Alternative Sources Of Vitamin K
Vitamin K is essential for funneling calcium into bones to strengthen their mineral density and fight fractures. It also prevents heart disease, boosts brain function and metabolism, and helps regulate hormones.
As grass-fed dairy is one of the best sources of Vitamin K2, cutting it out means you need to increase your intake of other sources of the vitamin to ensure you’re meeting your body’s needs. In addition, gut issues – like those experienced by people with lactose intolerance – further reduce Vitamin K levels.
Vitamin K2 is found in natto, a fermented soy bean dish; free-range organic egg yolk; and meats like chicken liver, salami, and ground beef.
However, if none of these sources appeal to you, a healthier option is to choose sources of Vitamin K1, which research shows we can convert into K2.
Foods rich in K1 include green leafy vegetables, scallions, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cucumbers, and dried basil.
5. Alternative Sources Of Vitamin D
Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, Vitamin D is vital for calcium absorption in the gut. It also has many other important functions in the body.
As many people boost their Vitamin D levels through fortified dairy products, replacing this source of the nutrient is important. Furthermore, by getting adequate levels of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, and K, adults can reduce the amount of calcium needed to maintain bone health.
One of the easiest ways to increase Vitamin D levels is to get out and about in the sunshine – the body can synthesize the vitamin from the sun’s rays. However, this isn’t always possible depending on your climate, and the amount of skin you expose when outdoors.
In addition, sunscreen with an SPF of just 8 lessens our ability to produce the vitamin by up to 95%!
There are very few food sources of Vitamin D but it is found in UV exposed mushrooms, egg yolk, beef, fish, and in an array of non-dairy fortified foods such as orange juice, cereals, and plant-based milks and yogurts.
6. Dairy-Free Alternatives
While dairy alternatives – such as nut and seed milks, dairy-free cheeses, coconut yogurts, and desserts – aren’t a ‘must’ on a lactose-free diet, they can make life easier and reduce the feelings of deprivation that often accompany cutting dairy from the diet.
Many of these dairy alternatives are delicious and are rapidly growing in popularity. In fact, in the past five years, sales of almond milk have grown 250% to $895 million in 2015!
If you like a creamy texture to your morning green smoothie, or just need some milk in your oatmeal, then consider giving one of these dairy-free options a go. Choose milks made from flaxseed, almond, hemp, oats, rice, soy, macadamia, coconut, cashew, hazelnut, buckwheat, and more!
Where possible, opt for a brand with no added sugar, and one that is fortified with both Vitamin D and calcium for bone health.
7. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) deserves a place in every home. This fermented tonic – which will provide you with a healthy dose of probiotics – can be especially helpful for those with lactose intolerance.
If you feel symptoms coming on after eating some dairy, try consuming a cup of water with a tablespoon of ACV mixed in it. The enzymes in the vinegar can aid digestion, and prevent bloating and flatulence. Its pectin content may even help to soothe intestinal spasms.
Aromatic, spicy and warming, ginger root may be just what the doctor ordered if you are suffering the after-effects of hidden dairy.
For one thing, ginger is a potent anti-inflammatory which quells pro-inflammatory enzymes in the same manner as drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen do.
Since the symptoms of lactose intolerance – including bloating, gas, and diarrhea – can be caused by stomach inflammation, ginger can quickly and effectively combat these issues.
What’s more, research has shown that the ginger root is as effective as taking an over-the-counter anti-nausea medicine.
To make a healing ginger tea, simply grate fresh ginger into hot water and sip slowly until symptoms subside.
Here are just a few more reasons to eat fresh ginger root every day.