Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest significant amounts of lactose, which is the milk sugar found in dairy products. Lactose intolerance is caused by a shortage of the enzyme lactase, which is normally produced by the cells lining the small intestine. People who lack this enzyme are unable to completely digest lactose into its simpler forms: glucose and galactose.
The severity of lactose intolerance varies by person, with many people able to tolerate small amounts of lactose. (1) Common symptoms of lactose intolerance include digestive discomfort, bloating, cramping, gas pains, and loose stools. Note that lactose intolerance is different from a milk allergy. If you suspect that your child has lactose intolerance, talk with your child’s physician. To diagnose lactose intolerance, the physician will review your child’s symptoms and can perform a medical test. (1)
While milk and dairy products are the more commonly known lactose-containing foods, other foods that may contain lactose include the following:
Look for the following ingredients on the food label. If any of these are present, lactose is present in the product:(1)
There are certain things you can try that may help improve lactose tolerance. These include the following: (1)
Since many lactose-containing foods are rich sources of calcium, it is important to ensure your child consumes enough calcium in her diet. Calcium is important to help promote strong bones, healthy teeth, proper blood clotting, and muscle contraction. To learn more about why calcium is important for your child’s health, see The Calcium Connection.
Milk and dairy products aren’t the only foods that have calcium. Other sources include canned fish with soft bones, green leafy veggies and broccoli, dried beans, almonds, calcium-set tofu, and certain fortified cereals, juices and milk alternatives. (2) To ensure your child is getting enough calcium in her diet, refer to the charts below to determine how much calcium your child needs and how food sources of calcium compare.
Vitamin D is another important nutrient that works alongside calcium. It may also be low in your child’s diet if she is lactose intolerant. Vitamin D is present in a limited number of foods, including some fish such as salmon and tuna, eggs, and liver. Some foods are also fortified with vitamin D, including milk, some juices, milk alternatives, yogurts, and cereals. We can produce vitamin D in our skin with unprotected contact with the sun. However, in more northern latitudes, this will not be sufficient to meet our vitamin D needs, so ensuring adequate vitamin D intake is important. (1)
Still have questions? Talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian to make sure your child is getting in all of the nutrients she needs.
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