Lactose intolerance (LI) has been identified in about 30 million Americans. There is a lot of information and misinformation swirling about the condition—some are facts and some are myths. I’m setting the record straight on 4 popular myths.
Myth #1: I know I am lactose intolerant
Many folks are familiar with the uncomfortable symptoms associated with lactose intolerance such as flatulence, bloating, and tummy aches. However, just because you think you have it doesn’t necessarily mean you do. The best way to tell if you have lactose intolerance is to speak with your physician and get tested by having a lactose tolerance test or hydrogen breathe test both which measure the lactose being absorbed in the digestive system. It’s also important to get tested in order to get an accurate diagnosis—this way your doctor will know how to treat or manage what you have.
Myth #2: Lactose intolerance means my body isn’t producing the enzyme lactase
The definition of lactose intolerance is typically misunderstood. Lactose is a milk sugar made when two single sugars are linked together. In order to be properly digested and absorbed into the body, the linked single sugars need to be cut in two by the enzyme lactase. Folks with lactose intolerance do produce the enzyme. However, the symptoms of LI occur when these folks consume more lactose than the body can digest and absorb at one time. The amount of lactose tolerated in one sitting varies between individuals but studies have shown that many folks can usually tolerate up to 13 grams of lactose (equivalent to 1 cup of milk) at one time.
Myth #3: I have lactose intolerance, so I cannot have any dairy foods
Both the National Medical Association (NMA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) expert panel recommend that folks with LI try and keep milk and dairy foods in the diet. Dairy provides 9 essential nutrients such as protein, calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and magnesium and helps meet the recommended 3 servings of dairy each day.
In order to better tolerate dairy food, choose lower lactose items. A cup of milk contains 13 grams of lactose while 1 ounce of hard cheese (like Parmesan) has 0.1 grams. Traditional and Greek yogurt also has less lactose since they contain live active cultures that naturally breakdown the lactose.
Lactose free products are also available on the market such as milk, ice cream, egg nog, and cottage cheese.
Myth #4: Cooking with milk and dairy products is out of the question
Cooking with milk and dairy products is possible and can sometimes be easier to handle. When dairy is combined with other foods (such as Greek yogurt in a smoothie) the solid foods help slow down the digestion and allow the body more time to digest lactose. Other suggestions on incorporating small amounts of dairy into dishes:
• Use low fat milk to thicken soup
• Top pasta dishes with a small amount of grated Parmesan or another flavorful hard cheese
• Use low fat or fat free milk when making pancakes
• Top soups (like butternut squash or carrot) with a dollop of nonfat Greek yogurt
Toby Amidor, MS RD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in clinical nutrition and dietetics. She is the owner of Toby Amidor Nutrition, where she provides nutrition and food safety consulting services for various entities including FoodNetwork.com, Sears FitStudio, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Bobby Deen’s Not My Mama’s Meals. For more information, visit her website http://tobyamidornutrition.com.