Avoidance of milk and dairy foods from the diet due to “lactose intolerance” is very commonly seen and leads to the exclusion of a whole food group which contain essential nutrients.
However, researchers report that the incidence of lactose intolerance is much less common than lactose maldigestion and many individuals who think they are lactose intolerant actually are not.
One study involving 30 adults who described themselves as severely lactose intolerant found that 30% were able to effectively absorb lactose,
In addition, both lactose digesters and maldigesters were able to tolerate one cup of milk consumed with breakfast, with minimal, if any symptoms.
In fact studies indicate that the majority of lactose maldigesters report no significant difference between the symptoms experienced after drinking 1 cup of regular milk compared with lactose-free milk.
Another study found that some lactose maldigesters who self-reported lactose intolerance symptoms could comfortably consume 2 cups of milk spread over the main meals of the day.
Consequently a positive diagnosis of lactose maldigestion doesn’t mean that milk or any other dairy foods that contain lactose need to be eliminated from the diet.
Unnecessary exclusion of milk and dairy from the diet can compromise intakes of nutrients such as calcium, riboflavin, phosphorous, magnesium, vitamin B12 and high quality protein in addition to other important nutrients.
Therefore consumption of as much dairy as can be tolerated is recommended to help meet nutrient requirements and in addition, studies suggest that consumption of small amounts of milk and dairy foods over the day can actually help to decrease the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
For those who suffer from the symptoms of lactose intolerance, several options are available to help them include adequate amounts of dairy in the diet.
- Some dairy foods have naturally lower lactose content than milk e.g. yogurts and cheeses due to the processing techniques involved in their production. Often these foods can be consumed in larger quantities than milk without exacerbating symptoms.
- Consumption of milk in small amounts throughout the day, particularly with solid foods at mealtimes often increases tolerance.
- Chocolate milk may be better tolerated than plain milk.
- Several lactose reduced dairy foods are now available on the market, although they are usually more expensive.
In conclusion, most lactose maldigesters can include sufficient milk and dairy foods within their diet to meet nutrient requirements, with small and manageable manipulation of the types and amounts of dairy foods consumed.
In fact studies suggest that most self described “lactose intolerant” individuals can meet their calcium needs by consuming milk and dairy products without experiencing symptoms.
Consuming dairy products such as 200ml/1 glass of milk, 30g or a matchbox sized piece of cheese, 150g or 1 pot of yogurt everday can help you meet your calcium requirements.
Individuals with lactose maldigestion or lactose intolerance should therefore be encouraged to consume milk and dairy products as opposed to eliminating this group completely from the diet.