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Rethinking Lactose Intolerance: A Guide for Including Dairy Foods in the Diet

Rethinking Lactose Intolerance: A Guide for Including Dairy Foods in the Diet


Tips for Tolerating Lactose: Everyone can digest some lactose. For those who are lactose intolerant, the most important factor to consider when drinking milk is dose: how much milk at a time and how you drink it.

Drink 8 ounces (one cup) or less of milk with a meal.

  • Research suggests that you will tolerate milk fairly well if it is 8 ounces (1 cup) or less. Slowing down the digestion of the milk will also improve the tolerance. Drink a small serving of milk with a meal — such as over a bowl of cereal or with dinner —and it will be better tolerated than on an empty stomach. Drinking milk with a meal will improve digestion by 3 times as compared to drinking the milk by itself.

Train your body to adapt.

  • Research indicates the amount of lactose you can tolerate can be changed. For some people, 1 cup might be too much to tolerate when introducing milk back into the diet. Start with a small amount, such as a ¼ cup at meals. After a few days, increase to a ½ cup with meals. After a week or two, increase to a cup, but don’t go beyond that. By doing this, you will train your intestinal bacteria to aid the digestion of lactose, and this will help eliminate symptoms of lactose intolerance. Drink a small amount of milk once or twice a day, and you will keep your bacteria trained and further enhance your body’s ability to digest milk.
  • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults consume 3 cups/servings per day of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products. Work up to this amount. 1-2 cups could be milk with meals, and the remaining amount could be yogurt or cheese. Spreading the 3 cups out over the day is most beneficial. For example, doubling up milk with yogurt at a meal does not increase tolerance. It only increases the amount of lactose, which can make symptoms of intolerance more likely.

Lactose Content in Dairy Foods

  • You won’t find this on the food label, but a cup of milk contains about 12 grams of lactose. Maldigesters should stay below 12 grams of lactose in a meal to prevent symptoms. So, in other words, a cup of milk with a meal is just about right.
  • Hard cheeses are well tolerated because they are low in lactose, with 1.5 ounces of a hard cheese containing only 1-2 grams of lactose. Cottage cheese contains 4-6 grams of lactose. A 6-8-ounce serving of yogurt contains 11-17 grams of lactose, but it is well tolerated. Researchers at Purdue University and across the globe have studied the digestion of yogurt and found that yogurt lactose digestion is far superior to milk lactose.
  • Greek yogurts are also well tolerated due to a low level of lactose and higher protein content, which slows down stomach emptying and increases tolerance. Kefir is a type of fermented beverage that limited research suggests is also fairly well tolerated and a good source of calcium, too.

Dairy foods are by far the best source of calcium and include excellent quality protein and substantial amounts of potassium and riboflavin. Adding vitamin D enhances this nutritional value too. But another option might be low-lactose products such as almond or rice beverages. These are well tolerated, but be sure to read the Nutrition Facts label to check the amount of calcium and other nutrients in these products. These other “milks” are often fortified with calcium and vitamins to improve their nutritional value, but amounts can vary by manufacturer, and there are no clear national guidelines for these products. They may also contain large amounts of sweeteners.


Source: The Purdue Extension Education Store

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