Lactose Intolerance Test
Tips for Consumers on Lactose Intolerance
Intolerance is Not Allergy
Does your stomach churn after you drink milk? Do you have diarrhea soon afterward? If so, you may be lactose intolerant.
Lactose intolerance is not the same as a milk allergy, says Kavita Dada, Pharm.D., a senior health promotion officer in the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) Division of Drug Information. "For most people with lactase deficiency, it's a discomfort."
People who have trouble digesting lactose can learn which dairy products and other foods they can eat without discomfort and which ones they should avoid.
But a food allergy is an abnormal response to a food triggered by the immune system and can be life-threatening. People with food allergies must avoid certain foods altogether. People with food intolerances can often eat small amounts of the offending foods without having symptoms.
- If you are lactose intolerant, try lactose-free milk or dairy products lower in lactose, such as yogurt and cheese. You may be able to consume dairy products in small amounts without symptoms.
- Consume milk or other dairy products with other foods. This helps slow down digestion, making it easier for your body to absorb lactose.
- If you're eating few or no dairy products, ask your doctor or dietitian if you are getting enough calcium in your diet. You may need to take dietary supplements with calcium to keep your bones healthy.
Lactose Intolerance and Raw Milk
FDA warns consumers not to drink raw, or unpasteurized, milk. "Raw milk advocates claim that pasteurized milk causes lactose intolerance," says John Sheehan, Director of FDA's Division of Plant and Dairy Food Safety. "This is simply not true. All milk, whether raw or pasteurized, contains lactose, and pasteurization does not change the concentration of lactose nor does it convert lactose from one form into another."
Raw milk advocates also claim that raw milk prevents or cures the symptoms of lactose intolerance. Arguing that raw milk contains Bifidobacteria, they claim these microorganisms are beneficial (pro biotic) and create their own lactase, which helps people digest the milk.
"This is not true, either," says Sheehan. "Raw milk can contain Bifidobacteria, but when it does, the bacteria come from fecal matter (animal manure) and are not considered probiotic, but instead are regarded as contaminants."
Drinking raw milk will still cause uncomfortable symptoms in people who are correctly diagnosed as being lactose intolerant. But worse than this discomfort are the dangers of raw milk, which can harbor a host of disease-causing germs, says Sheehan. "These microorganisms can cause very serious, and sometimes even fatal, disease conditions in humans."
Read Food Labels
"Lactose-free" or "lactose-reduced" milk and other products are widely available in grocery stores. These products may be fortified to provide the same nutrients as their lactose-containing counterparts.
There is no FDA definition for the terms "lactose free" or "lactose-reduced," but manufacturers must provide on their food labels information that is truthful and not misleading. This means a lactose-free product should not contain any lactose, and a lactose-reduced product should be one with a meaningful reduction. Therefore, the terms lactose-free and lactose-reduced have different meanings, and a lactose-reduced product may still contain lactose that could cause symptoms.
Lactose-free or lactose-reduced products do not protect a person who is allergic to dairy products from experiencing an allergic reaction. People with milk allergies are allergic to the milk protein, which is still present when the lactose is removed.
Look at the ingredient label. If any of these words are listed, the product probably contains lactose:
- evaporated milk
- condensed milk
- dried milk
- powdered milk
- milk solids
Highly sensitive individuals should also beware of foods labeled "non-dairy," such as powdered coffee creamers and whipped toppings. These foods usually contain an ingredient called sodium caseinate, expressed as "caseinate" or "milk derivative" on the label, that may contain low levels of lactose.