Lactose is a natural sugar found in milk and is a natural source of energy.
To unlock this energy, our small intestine must produce an enzyme called lactase, which breaks down lactose so our body can absorb it. When our body’s ability to make lactase diminishes, the result is lactose intolerance, which can cause gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g. nausea, bloating, diarrhoea and/or abdominal pain).
However, while some people can’t absorb lactose easily, most don’t have actual diagnosed lactose intolerance. True lactose intolerance is rarely diagnosed by medical testing, and some people who believe they are lactose intolerant may actually be suffering from other disorders, such as Coeliac disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Experts recommend that people with lactose intolerance consume small and regular amounts of dairy, so, for example, one glass of milk a day, particularly if it’s spread out throughout the day or consumed with meals when it can be better tolerated.
Avoiding dairy because of lactose intolerance could result in a lack of key nutrients in your diet so expert medical advice should be sought to help you continue to enjoy milk and optimise your nutrition intake.
It is important to note that not all dairy products cause these gastrointestinal symptoms for certain people and some can actually reduce or stop them altogether.