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Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose.

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose.
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Lactose intolerance treatments

The main treatment for lactose intolerance is to reduce the amount of lactose in your diet. That means reducing the amount of dairy products, such as milk, yoghurt, ice cream and soft cheeses, that you eat or changing the way you eat these foods.

Most people with lactose intolerance don't need to eliminate dairy foods from their diet. Many of these foods don’t contain large amounts of lactose and are a good source of calcium. For example, most cheeses contain virtually no lactose and are usually well tolerated. Yoghurt is also generally well digested since it contains bacteria that ferment (or consume) the lactose.

Most people with lactose intolerance can consume around 8-10g of lactose a day without having symptoms. This is the amount present in 175 to 200mL (a small glass) of regular milk.

Tips for people with lactose intolerance

While you don’t need to eliminate lactose from your diet if you are lactose intolerant, you may need to manage how you eat dairy foods to reduce the possibility of symptoms. For example:

  • Drink milk with other foods and not on an empty stomach.
  • Distribute milk intake into small serves spread out over the day.
  • Build up your tolerance by starting small and gradually increasing your milk consumption.
  • Regular fat milk may be better tolerated than low fat or skim milk - fat slows the passage of lactose through your digestive system, giving you more time to digest it.
  • Yoghurt is often better tolerated than milk, and cheese is low in lactose and is well tolerated.

Other foods are good sources of calcium:

  • soy, almond and rice milk, although these are often lower in calcium
  • broccoli, tinned salmon, oranges, pinto beans, rhubarb and spinach.

If you suspect you have lactose intolerance, it’s wise to speak to a doctor or a dietitian.

A few people have such severe lactose intolerance that they have to avoid certain medicines because they contain lactose. It’s best to speak with your doctor or pharmacist if this is the case.

Lactose intolerance can be temporary, and it may be possible to gradually reintroduce milk and dairy products over time if you have had to reduce them in your diet.

Last reviewed: November 2016

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