When you first hear that you're lactose intolerant, it can bring with it the notion that you will never enjoy dairy again. Gone are the days of milk, cheese, chocolate... and more.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
What is lactase?
Lactase is an enzyme generated in the small intestine that helps break down lactose (a type of complex sugar found in diary products) into glucose and galactose (types of simple sugars) so it can be easily absorbed into our blood stream through the intestinal wall.
If lactose is not broken down (or cannot be broken down due to not enough lactase) it absorbs water - and water cannot pass through the intestinal wall, so it sits there and causes all sorts of upsets. Bloating, cramps, discomfort and diarrhoea are some of the fun symptoms you can experience.
When we’re born, our body is able to produce the lactase enzyme naturally, but as we age many people start to produce less of it. Science is not entirely sure why, although some say this links back to our evolutionary origins and the question should be 'why are we lactose tolerant'. But what we do know is lactose intolerance generally comes down to the the upset in balance between lactose and lactase.
When we are out of balance (either through consuming too much lactose or not producing enough lactase) an intolerance to lactose can develop and digestion problems occur.
So what's the fix for lactose intolerance?
The answer for those lactose intolerance can seem simple - just manually add lactase back into your body when you know you’re about to consume something with lactose in it. This can be done with lactase supplements - many of which can be found at chemists for a relatively low cost.
But it's important to be aware of how much lactose you are consuming. A few adjustments to your diet may allow you to consume your favourite dairy foods without the need for supplementation. If you know you can have that it's only on your 3rd cup of milk that you start to experience discomfort, substitute or replace this in your diet to spread out your lactose intake so you are only consuming what your body can process.
Unfortunately for many the condition doesn’t get better – once the body loses the ability to produce lactase it stays that way, and can get worse over time, to the point where the body completely stops producing lactase and no amount of lactose you have is able to be tolerated.
So if you’re like me and hate being that person who asks for lactose free options for desserts, the easier alternative is to take your lactase tablets everywhere.
Because let's face it, lactose free desserts are no where near as tasty as their full flavoured cousins… and a burger without cheese isn’t really a burger!
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