What is lactose intolerance?

People with lactose intolerance have trouble digesting lactose, the natural sugar found in dairy foods. This is because their bodies do not have enough of the enzyme lactase.

Lactose intolerance is not common in young children because most people are born with enough lactase. However, in some people, the amount of lactase in their body drops over their lifetime.

This is especially common in non-Caucasians and other populations that don't traditionally include dairy products in their diets.

What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?

Symptoms of lactose intolerance can include:

  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhoea
  • flatulence
  • bloating

Symptoms can be mild or severe, usually depending on how much lactose a person has eaten or drank, and how much lactase is in their body.

Can people with lactose intolerance still have dairy products?

Most people with lactose intolerance do not require a completely lactose-free diet.

Studies show that there are some things people with lactose intolerance can do to have fewer symptoms of lactose intolerance:

  • Drink low-fat or fat-free milk in servings of 1 cup or less.
  • Drink low-fat or fat-free milk with other food, such as with breakfast cereal, instead of by itself.
  • Eat dairy products other than milk, such as low-fat or fat-free hard cheeses or cottage cheese, or low-fat or fat-free ice cream or yogurt. These foods contain a lower amount of lactose per serving compared with milk and may cause fewer symptoms.
  • Choose lactose-free milk and milk products, which have the same amount of calcium as regular milk.
  • Use over-the-counter pills or drops that contain lactase, which can eliminate symptoms altogether.
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