Lactose Intolerance or Milk Allergy?
by Karen Bakies RD LD FAND
“What is the difference between lactose intolerance and a milk allergy?” As a registered dietitian with the American Dairy Association Mideast, this is one of the most common questions I’m asked.
A milk allergy is caused by a reaction to the protein in milk. This is different from lactose intolerance, which occurs when your body has a hard time digesting the natural sugar (or carbohydrate) in milk. While people with milk allergies must avoid dairy, avoidance is not necessary for those who are lactose intolerant.
A milk allergy occurs primarily in infancy and early childhood. Approximately 2% of the pediatric population is affected by a milk allergy, which tends to be outgrown by the age of five.
Lactose intolerance is a type of food sensitivity, not an allergy. It is the result of not having enough lactase, an enzyme that digests the natural sugar (or carbohydrate) in milk, called lactose. People who have low levels of the lactase enzyme may experience intolerance symptoms such as gas, bloating, or diarrhea if they consume more lactose than their system can handle at one time. As an adult, your body may be making less of this enzyme than when you were younger. This may make it more difficult to eat dairy foods.
Lactose intolerance is manageable so you won’t miss out on the essential nutrients found in milk, cheese and yogurt. And remember, plant-based beverages do not contain the same nutrient package as real milk.
If testing shows you’re lactose intolerant, use these tips to help manage your symptoms.
Five Tips to Enjoy Dairy Again:
- Choose lactose-free milk and milk products. They are real milk products, just without the lactose, and provide the same great nutrients as regular dairy foods.
- Mix milk with other foods such as cereal or soups. This helps give your body more time to digest lactose.
- Eat easy-to-digest yogurt with “live, active cultures” to help digest lactose.
- Add naturally-aged cheese like cheddar, Colby or Swiss — which are low in lactose — to salads and sandwiches.
- Try small amounts of milk or other dairy foods daily, and slowly increase the amount over several days or weeks.