If you feel bloated and gassy or have cramps and nausea within a few hours of drinking milk or eating milk products, you may be lactose intolerant. At Triborough GI New York our gastroenterologists know that lactose intolerance can develop as one ages, so know that you are not alone and that there are several ways to manage those uncomfortable symptoms. Continue reading to learn helpful tips on managing your lactose intolerance!
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Finding your limit
People with lactose intolerance may think they can’t eat or drink any dairy products. This is often not true. Many people with lactose intolerance can eat or drink small amounts of dairy products without symptoms. To find your own limit, keep track of what you eat and drink. Write down when you have symptoms. Learn how much and what kinds of dairy products you can handle.
How Do I Know if I am Lactose Intolerant?
Lactose intolerance is fairly common, affecting almost 70% of people around the world. It usually develops during adulthood as a normal part of growing up and getting nutrients from food and drinks other than milk. Sometimes, it can be hard to tell the difference between lactose intolerance and other diseases like celiac or inflammatory bowel disease, but if you notice more alarming symptoms such as severe abdominal pain or blood in your stool, seek medical attention immediately.
What is the Difference Between Lactose Intolerance vs Milk Allergies?
It is important to note that lactose intolerance is not the same thing as having an allergy to milk. If you are allergic to milk, you may experience more severe symptoms after eating or drinking dairy products such as skin rashes, tingling around the mouth and lips, difficulty breathing, vomiting, or fever. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention right away.
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Tips to reduce symptoms
- Choose low-lactose or lactose-free dairy products. These are widely available. They include products like milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream, among others.
- Eat foods with active cultures, such as yogurt. Active cultures make lactose easier to digest.
- Eat or drink dairy products with other foods to lessen symptoms.
- Use fruit juice to replace some or all of the milk in recipes.
- Take lactase enzyme tablets with dairy products to help prevent symptoms.
- Avoid eating many high-lactose foods (such as milk, butter, and ice cream) at one time.
Food strategies to reduce symptoms of lactose intolerance:
- Reduce the amount of lactose per serving rather than avoiding it. Some studies show that people with lactose intolerance can eat at least 12 grams of lactose (equivalent to 1 cup of milk) with minor or no symptoms. Taken with other foods, some people can tolerate up to 18 grams.
- Think hard cheese. Hard cheeses, such as most cheddars, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Romano do not have lactose since their lactose is changed into lactic acid as the cheese ages.
- Check yogurts with active cultures. Yogurts with active cultures are much less likely to cause problems, but check the labels. Yogurts or any foods that list “added milk solids” or “whey” can contain significant amounts of lactose.
- Try plant-based milks. Soy, rice, almond and other nut milks are completely lactose-free, and can be both a good source of calcium (if they are supplemented with calcium) and these can be a healthy choice for people trying to reduce cholesterol.
- Mix high-lactose foods with non-lactose foods. By combining non-lactose foods with dairy, the lactose-rich food may pass more slowly through the intestines and have a better chance to be digested properly.
- Build up intestinal tolerance. Although the lactase enzyme is not increased by the amount of lactose consumed, some studies show that regular consumption of lactose may increase tolerability in both adults and kids.
- Shop for lactose-free milk. Milk that has been treated with lactase is widely available and often well tolerated by people with lactose intolerance. Unfortunately, such products are more costly than untreated milk.
Eat other calcium-rich foods
If you eat less dairy, you may be getting less calcium. Ask your doctor about calcium supplements. Also, eat more dairy-free, calcium-rich foods, such as:
- Broccoli, lettuce greens, kale, bok choy (Chinese cabbage), turnip greens
- Fish with edible bones (canned salmon or sardines)
- Alfalfa sprouts, soy sprouts
- Tofu, soybeans, pinto beans, navy beans
- Almonds, sesame seeds
- Calcium-fortified orange juice, soy drink, rice drink
Be aware that the calcium from these foods varies. It may not be as well absorbed by the body as calcium from dairy products.
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Your body needs vitamin D to use calcium. You can get vitamin D by eating foods that have vitamin D. These include salmon, tuna, and eggs. Also, talk with one of our gastroenterologists at Triborough GI New York about taking a vitamin D supplement. Your vitamin D levels can be checked and followed by a blood test to be sure you are not lacking this nutrient.
Removing all dairy items from your diet is not often needed. And removing dairy also means taking out other healthy foods from your diet. This is why lactose-free dairy products are often a good choice. Your provider can also talk with you about taking calcium and vitamin D supplements.