What is lactose intolerance?

If you have bloating, abdominal pains and diarrhea, you could be lactose intolerant. Find out what that means for your diet

What is lactose intolerance?

Source: Your Body Your Health, Reader’s Digest

Lactose intolerance is a condition in which the body fails to produce the enzyme lactase. Lactase is necessary for the digestion of lactose, a natural sugar present in milk. Without it, lactose cannot be broken down and passes unchanged into the large intestine where it is fermented by intestinal bacteria causing bloating, abdominal pains and diarrhea.
Most ethnic groups in the world are lactose intolerant; some would say this is the ‘normal’ adult state as we’re not designed to drink milk after being weaned. In countries where dairy products are not regularly eaten, the body stops producing lactase at some point between infancy and adulthood. In the Western world, however, we include so many dairy products in our diet that we need to produce lactase to deal with the milk sugar.

Lactase deficiency can also occur as a rare inherited condition, which becomes apparent shortly after birth. Much more common is temporary lactose intolerance, which can occur after a stomach upset.

People with lactose intolerance should avoid milk, including sheep’s and goat’s milk, and dairy products such as cream, yogurt, cheese and butter. Processed foods, monosodium glutamate, artificial sweeteners and medicines may also contain lactose.

Some people with lactose intolerance can handle small amounts of milk and dairy foods, such as milk in tea or coffee or the occasional cheese sandwich, without experiencing any ill effects.

For those people who cannot tolerate even small quantities of dairy produce, most health food shops and some supermarkets stock low-lactose and dairy-free alternatives, such as cream substitutes. If you have to limit your intake of milk and dairy products, you need to ensure you get enough dietary calcium from other sources.

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