WHAT IS LACTOSE INTOLERANCE?
Lactose intolerance results from an individual’s inability to produce an enzyme called lactase, which is the enzyme that digests the sugar, lactose. Lactose is found in milk and dairy products. Without lactose, the sugars in milk and dairy products can’t be broken down. Because the lactase enzyme is missing, when individuals with this intolerance ingest dairy products, they experience symptoms that can include bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, flatulence and/or vomiting. However, these symptoms are temporary, and eating foods with lactose does not cause permanent damage to the body of affected individuals.
The degree of lactose intolerance varies between individuals, meaning that the amount of foods containing lactose that can be eaten and tolerated without symptoms varies. Hard cheeses contain a small amount of lactose and are generally well tolerated in small servings by affected individuals. Milk contains a large amount of lactose and is generally not well tolerated by lactose intolerant individuals. Yogurt and soft cheeses may be tolerated by some in varying quantities. Many lactose intolerant people can tolerate processed, baked, or cooked products that contain milk as an ingredient. However the degree of tolerance varies between individuals. Enzyme supplements (lactase) that enable the digestion of lactose are available in many pharmacies and may have variable effectiveness. Lactose-free milk, which is milk that the manufacturer has added lactase to in order to predigest the lactose prior to packaging, can be purchased in most groceries and supermarkets and is usually well tolerated by individuals who are lactose intolerant. Other alternatives to dairy milk include almond milk, soy milk, or rice milk.