Q I have just been diagnosed as lactose intolerant. Where do I start?
Firstly – don’t panic! It’s great that you have identified lactose as the culprit, rather than a general dairy intolerance. Think of it as good news as this means you don’t have to avoid all your favourite dairy products – there are plenty on the market that have been developed without lactose that you can still enjoy.
Lactose is the naturally occurring sugar found in milk and other dairy products including yoghurt, cheese and ice cream. Problems occur when you are unable to produce enough of the enzyme lactase to break it down, resulting in gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhoea, bloating and general feelings of discomfort. In some cases the absence of lactase is a hereditary condition – usually found in African and Asian populations.
Lactose intolerance can be a temporary problem after suffering a stomach bug and can resolve itself over time. However, if this is not the case you’re best avoiding it as much as you can and if you do need to be lactose-free you’ll also have to rule out goat’s milk, buffalo milk and sheep milk.
If your symptoms aren’t too terrible, some cheese can actually be well tolerated. Traditional aged cheeses like Cheddar, Parmesan and Swiss cheeses are naturally very low in lactose – usually less than 0.5g per 100g – so once you’re feeling a little better and if you feel you’re missing a cheesy treat, you might try including a small amount and seeing how you get on.
In the meantime, brands like Arlo, who make a whole range of lacto-free dairy products are a good starting point, or try going dairy-free and experiment with nut milks, oat milks and rice milks – thankfully there’s loads of tasty alternatives available these days!
About our expert: Becky Graham is a registered nutritional therapist based at the renowned Institute for Optimum Nutrition in Richmond, London. She is trained in functional medicine, which uses a completely personalised approach to nutrition, working with a wide range of conditions from stress and low energy to digestive or hormonal imbalances. As well as working with clients on an individual basis, Becky works with large companies to support health and wellbeing initiatives. Combining nutrition with work in television, she is passionate about supporting busy lifestyles with food. www.healthyhedonist.co.uk