Struggle to digest lactose? Avoid everything dairy in an effort to avoid symptoms?
Don’t throw the kefir out with the milk just yet. As dietitian Helen West explains in this extract from Authority Nutrition, some dairy foods are surprisingly low in the natural sugar.
What Is Lactose Intolerance?
Those who have it don’t have enough of an enzyme called lactase. Produced in your gut, lactase is needed to break down lactose, the main sugar found in milk.
Without lactase, lactose can pass through your gut undigested and cause unpleasant symptoms like nausea, pain, gas, bloating and diarrhoea.
Fear of developing these symptoms can lead people with this condition to avoid foods that contain lactose, such as dairy products.
However, this isn’t always necessary, as not all dairy foods contain enough lactose to cause problems for people with an intolerance.
In fact, it’s thought that many people with an intolerance can eat up to 12 grams of lactose at a time without experiencing any symptoms.
To put that in perspective, 12 grams is the amount found in 1 cup (230 ml) of milk. Additionally, some dairy foods are naturally low in lactose.
Butter is a very high-fat dairy product that’s made by churning milk to separate its solid fat and liquid components.
The final product is around 80 per cent fat, as the liquid part of milk (which contains all the lactose) is removed during processing.
This means that the lactose content of butter is really low. In fact, 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of butter contains only 0.1 grams .
Levels this low are unlikely to cause problems, even if you have an intolerance.
If you are concerned, it’s worth knowing that butter made from fermented milk products and clarified butter contain even less lactose than regular butter.
So unless you have another reason to avoid butter, ditch the dairy-free spread.
2. Hard Cheese.
Cheese is made by adding bacteria to milk and then separating the cheese curds that form from the whey.
Given that the lactose in milk is found in the whey, a lot of it is removed when cheese is being made.
However, the amount found in cheese can vary, and cheeses with the lowest amounts are the ones that have been aged the longest.
This is because the bacteria in cheese are able to break down some of the remaining lactose, lowering its content. The longer a cheese is aged, the more lactose is broken down by the bacteria in it.
This means that aged, hard cheeses are often very low in lactose. For example, 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of cheddar cheese contain only trace amounts of it.
Cheeses that are low in lactose include Parmesan, Swiss and cheddar. Moderate portions of these cheeses can often be tolerated by people with lactose intolerance.
Cheeses that tend to be higher in lactose include cheese spreads, soft cheeses like Brie or Camembert, cottage cheese and mozzarella.
What’s more, even some higher-lactose cheeses may not cause symptoms in small portions, as they tend to still contain less than 12 grams of lactose.
3. Probiotic Yoghurt.
This is because most yoghurts contain live bacteria that can help break down lactose, so you don’t have as much to digest yourself.
It found that when people with lactose intolerance ate the yoghurt, they were able to digest 66 per cent more lactose than when they drank the milk.
The yoghurt also caused fewer symptoms, with only 20 per cent of people reporting digestive distress after eating the yoghurt, compared to 80 per cent after drinking the milk.
It’s best to look for yoghurts labelled “probiotic,” which means they contain live cultures of bacteria. Yoghurts that have been pasteurised, which kills the bacteria, may not be as well tolerated .
Additionally, full-fat and strained yoghurts like Greek and Greek-style yoghurt could be an even better choice for people with lactose intolerance.
This is because full-fat yoghurts contain more fat and less whey than low-fat yoghurts.
Greek and Greek-style yoghurts are also lower in lactose because they are strained during processing. This removes even more of the whey, making them naturally much lower in lactose.
Like yoghurt, kefir grains contain live cultures of bacteria that help break down and digest the lactose in milk.
This means kefir may be better tolerated by people with lactose intolerance, when consumed in moderate quantities.
In fact, one study found that compared to milk, fermented dairy products like yoghurt or kefir could reduce symptoms of intolerance by 54–71 per cent.
This extract was originally published in full on Authority Nutrition.
Were you surprised by these low-lactose dairy foods?