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What Does it Mean to be Lactose Intolerant?

Lactose Intolerance

Milk is one of the primary sources of nutrition for children and adults alike, but some people are not able to fully digest this liquid because of lactose intolerance.

Awareness of this condition is spread every February, and many groups propagate the message that people with lactose intolerance can still eat healthy foods with or without lactose.

What is Lactose Intolerance?

Hypolactasia, or lactase deficiency, or simply lactose intolerance is a usually harmless but uncomfortable condition where the body does not produce an enzyme called lactase, which breaks down lactose or a kind of sugar found in milk.

Should people sensitive to this completely avoid dairy products?

Actually, many people with lactose intolerant can still drink up to two glasses of milk, if consumed in small quantities with food. They can do this by using milk in cooking or even consuming yogurt or cheese. The idea here is to slowly build your tolerance, and of course, know your limit.

Does lactose intolerance mean that someone is also allergic to milk?

Milk allergies are very rare and occur in only about 1 percent of adults and 3 percent of children, who can grow out of this kind of allergy. Lactose intolerance is not an allergy or a disease. The reasons are explained further below.

Consumption, Symptoms & Management

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerence:

The usual symptoms of this condition are the following, which can happen within 30 minutes to two hours after consuming food products with lactose:

Flatulence or gas


Abdominal cramps and pains

Bloated stomach

Feeling sick

Why do they experience those symptoms?

The reason people experience those symptoms is because of the gut bacteria that react to the undigested lactose. Here are several underlying types of hypolactasia and why the body isn’t able to produce lactase:

Primary lactose intolerance affects adults when their lactase production falls sharply because of genetics. This type is very common in people with southern European and Mediterranean ancestry, or those with Asian or African descent.

Secondary lactose intolerance, or called acquired hypolactasia, happens when the small intestine cannot produce enough lactose due to an injury, illness, or recent surgery. Such illnesses that may induce this type include acute gastroenteritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or intestinal parasites.

Congenital lactose intolerance is an extremely rare condition wherein infants are born without the ability to digest lactose from birth. This is a genetic defect that is passed from generation to generation.

Can people with lactose intolerance still consume products with milk or lactose?

Lactose intolerance can be managed, so people with this disorder don’t have to completely avoid dairy products because they might miss out on essential nutrients.

Milk doesn’t mean it’s the only dairy product out there. There are dairy products that have milk, or better yet, lower lactose levels like cheese (cheddar, Swiss, or parmesan), ice cream, yogurt with probiotics, cottage cheese. Just set a limit when you consume these foods because they have other ingredients (like sugar) that can affect other bodily functions.

Don’t exchange dairy milk for plant-based alternatives, because they don’t have the same nutritional content. There are lactose-free milk products that you can buy so that you still get the health benefits from their lactose-full cousins.

+ Mix dairy products with other foods. Why not use milk in your carbonara sauce? Or why not add fruits and make it a milkshake? Most people with lactose intolerance can take in up to 4 grams of lactose at a meal without the uncomfortable symptoms. Again, moderation is key here.

When should I seek medical advice?

The symptoms mentioned above can occur if you have other disorders or diseases. If you notice they happen immediately after you consume dairy products, visit your doctor for a diagnosis and advice as to what food you need to avoid in the meantime.