Don't confuse lactose intolerance with a milk allergy. Being lactose intolerant means you have an intolerance to the sugar in milk (lactose) because your body does not produce enough of the enzyme lactase, which is responsible for the digestion of lactose. Left undigested, lactose can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as nausea, cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, gas, and diarrhea.
People who have a true milk allergy are allergic to the protein found in milk, and they must avoid all milk products.
Lactose intolerance can affect people in varying degrees. Some have severe symptoms when they ingest lactose, whereas others can consume some lactose. Symptoms can begin anywhere from fifteen minutes to several hours after consuming food or a drink containing lactose. To help deal with lactose intolerance, follow some of these basic guidelines:
Look for label ingredient terms that suggest lactose is present, such as milk, dry milk solids, nonfat milk solids, buttermilk, lactose, malted milk, sour or sweet cream, margarine, milk chocolate, whey, whey protein concentrate, and cheese.
If your intolerance is severe, it is vital to recognize baked and processed food products that might contain lactose, such as pancakes, biscuits, cookies, cakes, salad dressings, commercial sauces or gravies, cream soups, lunchmeats, whipped toppings, and powdered coffee creamers.
Look for lactose-reduced or lactose-free milk products.
Experiment so you know what you can tolerate. Start with small amounts, and then gradually increase the portion size to determine your personal tolerance level.
Consume lactose-containing foods as part of a meal instead of alone. This can sometimes make the lactose easier to digest.
Eat smaller portions of lactose-containing foods. For example, instead of drinking a whole glass of milk, just try half of a serving.
Choose calcium-rich foods that are naturally low in lactose; aged cheeses such as Swiss, Colby, Parmesan, and Cheddar are good choices.
Try eating yogurt. Many people who are lactose intolerant can tolerate yogurt because of its “friendly” bacteria, which help digest the lactose.
Don't forget about other calcium-rich nondairy foods, including dark green leafy vegetables, calcium-fortified orange juice, and canned sardines or salmon with bones.
Look for kosher foods that have the words “parev” or “parve” on the label. This means they are milk-free.
If you suspect you may have lactose intolerance, do not self-diagnose. This condition can be linked to other health issues.