You can’t improve your body’s ability to produce lactase. But you can usually control the symptoms of lactose intolerance by modifying your diet and using special products made for people with this condition.

You may not have to completely avoid dairy foods. Most people with lactose intolerance can enjoy some milk products without symptoms. You may even be able to increase your tolerance to dairy products by gradually introducing them into your diet.

Keeping milk products on your menu can be beneficial, because milk products provide essential nutrients, such as calcium, vitamins A and D, riboflavin, and phosphorus. Avoiding milk entirely can make it difficult to get the amount of calcium you need for healthy bones and teeth. Here are some tips for changing your diet to minimize symptoms of lactose intolerance without minimizing your calcium intake:

  • Drink less milk more often. Sip small servings of milk – 2 to 4 ounces (59 to 118 milliliters) at a time. The smaller the serving, the less likely it is to cause gastrointestinal problems.
  • Save milk for mealtimes. Drink milk with other foods, rather than drinking milk alone. This slows the digestive process, so you reduce your chance of experiencing lactose intolerance.
  • Experiment with an assortment of dairy products. Not all dairy products have the same amount of lactose. For example, hard cheeses such as Swiss or cheddar have small amounts of lactose and generally cause no symptoms. You may well be able to tolerate cultured milk products, such as yogurt, because the bacteria used in the culturing process naturally produce the enzyme that breaks down lactose. However, some yogurts have milk added back after fermentation and may cause symptoms. Substitute nondairy coffee creamers or soy or rice milk.
  • Buy lactose-reduced or lactose-free products. You can find these products at most supermarkets next to the regular dairy products. They may be more expensive, but they contain all of the nutrients found in their lactose-loaded counterparts.
  • Seek other sources of calcium. If you can’t tolerate dairy products in large amounts, you can get calcium in broccoli, leafy greens, canned salmon, almonds, oranges, certain kinds of tofu and soy milk, and calcium-fortified breads and juices. Talk to a dietitian if you need ideas for getting more calcium into your diet.

Supplements

Supplements also may help you manage lactose intolerance:

  • Use lactase enzyme tablets. These tablets contain the enzyme that breaks down lactose, reducing the amount your body must digest on its own. You can take tablets just before a meal or snack. Improvement of symptoms may vary from one person to another, but tablets do help many people.
  • Take a calcium supplement. Calcium supplements are helpful for many people, but especially if you have lactose intolerance and are unable to eat dairy products.
  • Try probiotics. Probiotics are living organisms present in your intestines that help maintain a healthy digestive system. Probiotics are also available as active or “live” cultures in some yogurts and as supplements in capsule form. These are sometimes used for gastrointestinal conditions such as diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome. They may also help your body digest lactose. Probiotics are generally considered safe if used properly and may be worth a try if other methods don’t help.

Sources: Digestive Niddk, Mayo Clinic

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