How many of your favorite foods have dairy as a main ingredient? Ice cream, cheeseburgers, nachos – while all can technically be made without milk or cheese, none would be the same for the lack. For many of those stuck with lactose intolerance, the decadent foods that most of us take for granted seem hopelessly out of reach – but are they truly off the menu? Despite myths to the contrary, having a sensitivity to lactose doesn’t bar a person from eating dairy. While those with the condition need to be strategic about the type and quantity of dairy products they enjoy, they usually don’t need to cut it out of their diet altogether – and shouldn’t!
Lactose intolerance is a surprisingly common condition. According to statistics published by the National Dairy Council, an estimated 10% of adult Americans report having a sensitivity to dairy products. Symptoms typically include bloating, indigestion, and abdominal pain occurring after dairy intake, and vary from severity from person to person. However, lactose intolerance isn’t – as it is sometimes perceived – an allergy to milk. Rather, it is an inability to produce enough of the protein lactase to properly process lactose, a milk sugar. Most humans are able to handle lactose as children, though our capability usually peaks in the teenage years and further fades in adulthood. This all said, most adults can drink up to eight ounces of low-fat or fat-free milk without any repercussions to speak of. The capability to handle dairy varies greatly across individuals; those with a lactose sensitivity should experiment with their dairy intake and see how much they can comfortably handle before attempting to avoid milk products altogether.
Moreover, dairy options are available even when a glass of regular milk is out of the question. Those with severe lactose intolerance can still enjoy low-fat or lactose-free alternatives to milk, ice cream, and other dairy products – and should! Lactose-free milk is after all still milk, and so contains the same quantities of protein, Vitamin D, and calcium that make the ordinary drink so nutritionally beneficial. These individuals should also subbing low-lactose cheeses such as Colby, Cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, and Monterey Jack into their recipes for an enjoyable treat. Greek yogurt is similarly wonderful for its high culture of probiotic bacteria, which aids in the digestive process.
Check in with your doctor to discuss your dietary options before you distance yourself from dairy. A lactose sensitivity shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying your favorite dishes!