Lactose intolerance 101: what you need to know
Did you know that more than two-thirds of adults are unable to digest lactose? Here’s what you need to know about lactose intolerance, as well as ways to support your clients.
Have you had a client who claims that dairy makes them feel bloated? Unfortunately, this issue is quite common–for many people, eating or drinking foods that contain lactose can cause digestive problems.
As a nutrition professional, you can help your clients improve their quality of life and navigate the world of lactose-free options. But what are some ways that you can support your clients with nutrition?
Before going into nutrition suggestions, let’s first understand what lactose intolerance is and the symptoms surrounding it.
What is lactose intolerance?
People with lactose intolerance are unable to digest lactose, the main carbohydrate in dairy products. This occurs because the small intestine stops creating a sufficient amount of the lactase enzyme, which is needed to break down lactose.
Several types of lactose intolerance exist and may be caused by different factors. However, all lactose intolerance is characterized by a deficiency in lactase.
This digestive problem is quite common and affects around two-thirds of the world’s adult population. In fact, it’s estimated that lactose intolerance affects 38% of Americans, with a higher prevalence in Asians, Native Americans, and African Americans.
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Symptoms of lactose intolerance
Lactose intolerance can cause severe digestive problems if it’s not managed properly. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, gas, and pain.
The severity of these symptoms can vary based on the amount of lactose your client’s body can tolerate. They can appear as quickly as 30 minutes to 60 minutes after eating.
These symptoms can be frustrating and uncomfortable for your client to deal with, and can even impede their quality of life.
Tip: Understand the differences between food allergies and food intolerances.
How to test for lactose intolerance
If you suspect that your client has lactose intolerance, you can suggest an elimination diet. This is where you remove lactose for a few weeks, and then slowly reintroduce it to see if the symptoms re-emerge.
Since this issue may also be caused by another condition, there are a few other tests you can recommend. These include:
- Lactose tolerance test. This test measures blood sugar after lactose is ingested. If someone is intolerant to lactose, their blood sugar levels won’t be affected.
- Hydrogen breath test. This test measures hydrogen in someone’s breath after lactose intake. High amounts of hydrogen suggest digestive problems that may be related to lactose intolerance but also caused by other issues.
- Genetic test. This test checks for genetic causes of lactose intolerance.
- Stool acidity test. This test measures the pH of stool samples and is often used for babies and infants.
Nutritional considerations on a low lactose diet
Dairy products are highly nutritious and contain many important nutrients needed for bone health. However, since lactose is found in almost all dairy foods, many people may need to reduce or eliminate their dairy intake. As such, this could potentially deprive them of key nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and protein.
Here are some ways you can include more calcium, vitamin D, and protein in your client’s diet.
- Fortified foods. Orange juice, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, and plant-based milk products can be fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Learn more about which milk alternative reigns supreme with an ultimate guide in our blog.
Tip: Here’s everything nutrition professionals need to know about recommending plant-based milk options to clients.
- Plant foods. Bok choy, kale, and broccoli are rich in calcium, whereas mushrooms contain high amounts of vitamin D.
- Supplements. A multivitamin or targeted supplements may be beneficial for your clients.
You can also look at the food labels to help your client determine which options will work best for them.
Creating custom meal plans
If your client is lactose intolerant, you can create a custom meal plan to help reduce their lactose intake. At Nutrium, we offer meal plan templates to help you navigate these dietary concerns.
You can customize these meal plans to fit individual needs–whether it’s adding lactose-free foods or tracking certain nutrients. Besides that, you can analyze every client’s nutrition plan to ensure it fits with their lifestyle and continues to alleviate digestive symptoms. You can also communicate with your client via the Nutrium app so you can stay up to date on how they’re feeling.
More than two-thirds of adults are unable to digest lactose. As a nutrition professional, it’s important to understand how to support your clients who might be lactose intolerant. Digestive problems can be frustrating and uncomfortable to deal with, and can even impede your client’s quality of life. By focusing on a low lactose diet and creating a custom meal plan, you can help your clients avoid lactose, get enough nutrients, and improve their digestive symptoms.
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