What is lactose intolerance?

About 70% of the global population is lactose intolerant to some degree. Here is what you need to know about the digestive condition.


What is lactose?

Lactose is a large sugar molecule that is made up of two smaller sugar molecules, glucose and galactose. Lactose makes up around 2-8% of milk. 


What is lactose intolerance? 

Lactose intolerance is a digestive condition that occurs when the gut fails to break down lactose, a carbohydrate found in dairy products. 


What makes a person lactose intolerant? 

Normally, an enzyme found in your gut — called lactase — breaks down lactose into glucose and galactose. These sugars are then easily absorbed into the bloodstream.  

People with lactose intolerance don’t produce enough lactase. This leaves the lactose to be broken down by bacteria, which causes a range of problems.  


Symptoms of lactose intolerance 

Flatulence, diarrhea, nausea, cramps, stomach pains and bloating — oh my! 

Keep in mind, though, that the severity of the condition varies, and people can tolerate different levels of lactose in their diet. 


Managing lactose intolerance 

Traditionally, the way to manage lactose intolerance has been, quite simply, to avoid lactose-containing foods, like milk and cheese. But, with the growing availability of products like low-lactose and lactose-free milk, sufferers of lactose intolerance have more options than ever before to satisfy their cravings. 


Living with lactose intolerance

With new options becoming available in ever-expanding markets, avoiding dairy and lactose-containing foods entirely is no longer the only way to deal with lactose intolerance.

  • Lactase drops & pills: Sold in multiple forms, lactase can be added to milk or taken as a tablet before eating to facilitate the breakdown of lactose.
  • Lactose-free dairy: Milk is filtered and, in the process, is subjected to lactase, which breaks down the lactose before it reaches your gut. This can actually make the milk taste sweeter!
  • Plant-based alternatives: Milk substitutes are created using plants such as soy, oats and nuts.


Why drink milk despite lactose intolerance?

Besides having the familiar tastes that many consumers love, dairy products are a good source of calcium, which is vital for bone, muscle and heart health. If those with a lactase deficiency avoid dairy altogether, they will need to find ways to include other sources of calcium in their diets.

Lactose-free dairy allows sufferers of lactose intolerance to consumer dairy without adverse side effects, while still benefiting from milk’s calcium and vitamins. Plant-based alternatives may also be fortified with calcium and vitamins.


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