Lactose intolerance refers to the body's inability to process milk sugar (lactose), a condition that results from a deficiency of the lactase enzyme. Without this enzyme the body is unable to digest lactose. The undigested lactose causes cramps, flatulence and diarrhoea in the large intestine.
What products contain lactose?
Lactose is most often found in dairy products. However, lactose levels vary greatly: A glass of fresh cow's milk (2 dl), for example, has a high lactose level of approximately 10 grams. On the other hand, high-fat or soured dairy products such as cream, butter, buttermilk, yoghurt and quark have significantly lower levels of lactose. In fact, hard and semi-hard cheeses are considered virtually lactose-free because the milk sugar is converted while the cheese ages. Combining dairy products with lactose-free foods (yoghurt with muesli, for example) also increases tolerance. Individuals affected by this condition can easily integrate dairy products into their diet as long as they watch the total amount of lactose they consume. This is not always easy because lactose is often used as a thickener and/or flavour enhancer in processed products, such as dehydrated soups, sausages, sweets, chocolate, baked goods and even medicines.
And what if I don't want to give up eating dairy products?
While knowing all this allows you to enjoy worry-free meals at home, going to a restaurant can pose a major challenge for those suffering from lactose intolerance. Playing it safe and taking a lactase tablet before a meal is one way of avoiding problems. These rather expensive preparations, which are available from pharmacies, enable the stomach to digest lactose temporarily.
Dairy products made from soya, oats, almonds, coconuts or rice can be used as direct milk substitutes. Many food shops also offer a large selection of lactose-free dairy products.
Milk is the most important source of calcium for the body, and since calcium is the main component of bones and teeth, you should seek out other calcium-rich foods if you intend not to eat dairy products. Green vegetables, fresh herbs, nuts and calcium-rich mineral water are good alternative sources.
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