Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is a common digestive problem where the body is unable to digest lactose, a type of sugar mainly found in milk and diary products.  It is often mistaken for a food allergy which is caused by a reaction to a food by the persons immune system. When someone is allergic to something, even the smallest amount can be enough to create a reaction, while most people who suffer from lactose intolerance can still consume small amounts of lactose without any issues - however this willvery much vary from one person to another.

Lactose intolerance is caused by a lack of lactase in the body. 


This substance is responsible for breaking down lactose into two sugars called glucose and galactose, which are then easily absorbed into the bloodstream.  People with lactose intolerance don't produce enough lactase, so lactose stays in the digestive system where it is fermented by bacteria, leading to the production of various gases, which cause the symptoms associated with lactose intolerance. Depending on the underlying reason why the body does not produce enough lactase.  It is possible that a lactose intolerance may be not permanent although most cases that develop in adults are inherited and tend to be life long.

As milk is a major part of most people’s diets, cutting it out can have a detrimental effect on nutrition. In adults, the biggest risk is calcium deficiency. This could lead to thin bones (osteoporosis). The risk can be overcome by consuming calcium-enriched foods and soy milk.

Good sources of calcium:

  • Dark green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, watercress, parsleyand okra
  • Soya beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Apricots
  • Figs
  • Sesame seeds
  • Tofu
  • Nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts - although these will be high in fat and calories
  • Bread and anything made with fortified flour
  • Fish containing edible bones such as canned salmon, sardine and pilchards

Do check with your doctor to be sure that your calcium intake is adequate –calcium supplements may be advised.

The recommended daily intake for calcium is 1000mg for adults over 19 years(plus an additional 550mg/day while breastfeeding). Post-menopausal womenrequire 1200mg of calcium per day.

Substitutes for dairy food

Itis best if substitutes for lactose-containing dairy foods are calcium enriched. Soy-based yogurts are a moderate source of calcium. Powdered soy milks can be added to sauces during cooking to increase calcium content. Soy milk can be used freely in cooking as you would cows’ milk. For those who cannot tolerate soy milk or prefer cows’ milk there are a number of low-lactose milk products available such as milk made from rice, almonds and coconut are also normally lactose free.

For more advice on Lactose intolerence visit the NHS Choices website (click here) or the Allergy UK website (click here)