Lactose: Is It Good or Bad for You?

The image of milk has changed radically over the past decades. In a conservative food culture, milk was synonymous with everything healthy (did your parents also make you drink at least one glass of milk a day?). Nowadays, there's increasingly more people who've given up on milk, every second friend speaks of lactose intolerance, and supermarkets are full of lactose-free and low-lactose products.

But what is lactose exactly? Should we be rightfully afraid of it? How do you identify lactose intolerance? And what should you do with all this information? We'll address these and many more burning questions about lactose you might have in this article.

What is Lactose?

 

What Is Lactose? 

Quite simply, lactose is the main sugar in milk.

Babies are known for crying a lot, but apart from that they also produce a lot of lactAse. Lactase is an enzyme in the small intestine that allows babies to absorb mother's milk. It breaks lactose down into these two monosaccharides: glucose and galactose. And after that, these two simple sugars are easily absorbed into the bloodstream and give babies the energy to explore the world around them [1, 3].

How your body breaks down lactose

 

As one grows older, the body's ability to produce the required amount of the lactase enzyme is lost. As a result, the lactose is not digested and becomes food for bacteria in the digestive tract. In the process of assimilating this disaccharide, the body experiences quite unpleasant sensations such as bloating, stomach cramps and diarrhea. ☹️ And even if the lactase enzyme is produced in an adult's body, its activity usually decreases with age. The older you are, the worse the milk absorbs [2]. 

 

How Many People Are Lactose Intolerant?

According to various expert estimates, about 65-70 percent* of the world's adult population is not able to break down lactose properlythis phenomenon is called lactose intolerance [4-6].

But wait, then there’s a big chance that I am lactose intolerant too?

*Studies show that this is around 10-15% on average for European countries, but up to 90% for African and Asian countries.

 

How Do I Know If I'm Lactose Intolerant?

Typically, the symptoms of lactose intolerance are quite pronounced and appear several hours after eating food containing lactose.

How Do I Know If I'm Lactose Intolerant?

 

The five most common signs and symptoms are:

  1. Stomach pain and abdominal swelling;
  2. Diarrhea;
  3. Increased gas;
  4. Nausea;
  5. “Growling” stomach [7].

If some (or all) of these symptoms sound familiar to you, do not hesitate to visit your doctor and get an accurate diagnosis [8].

 

Lactose Intolerance Is Not the Same as Dairy Allergy

It's very easy to get confused here, but the truth is simple - lactose intolerance is not an allergy to dairy products. These are two completely different concepts.


Lactose intolerance

Dairy allergy

The inability to digest the sugar in milk

Reaction to casein (the milk protein)

Does not involve the immune system

Involves the immune system

Symptoms are only gastrointestinal. No skin and respiratory symptoms are involved.

It may involve skin, respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms

Most people with lactose intolerance can still consume a small amount of lactose without experiencing any problems

A small amount of milk protein could cause an allergic reaction

[9-11]



Is There a Cure for Lactose Intolerance? 

Sorry, there is no cure for lactose intolerance. However, if the symptoms are ruining your life and mood, you can always help yourself by limiting or avoiding lactose-containing foods.

It is important to make sure that you are consuming enough nutrients that are usually found in dairy products, such as calcium and vitamin D [12].

Calcium 

Calcium is great. If you want to have strong bones and muscles, healthy blood vessels and nervous system, satisfy your inner beast with calcium [15].

The required amount of calcium for adults is about 700 milligrams per day [16].

Food

Average portion size

Estimated Calcium*

Sardines (canned)

50g

200 mg

Tofu, steamed or fried (calcium-set)

120g

200 mg

Plenny Shakes v3.0 / Plenny Bars v2.0 / Plenny Drinks v2.0

1 meal

185 mg

Dried figs

2 pieces

100 mg

Tahini (sesame paste)

1 heaped tsp 

100 mg

Pink salmon (canned)

105g 

100 mg

Baked beans

200g 

85 mg

Broccoli (steamed)

110g 

50 mg

Tinned tomatoes

400g

50 mg

Whole almonds

10 pieces

50 mg

Orange

1 large fruit

50 mg

[16-19]
*The calcium content listed for most foods is estimated and can vary due to multiple factors. Check the food label to determine how much calcium is in a particular product.


Vitamin D 

Vitamin D does a very important job too, it helps the body absorb calcium. Therefore, be sure to add vitamin D-rich foods to your diet, such as: 

  • Fatty fish;
  • Mushrooms; 
  • Soy, almond, and oat milk;
  • Ready-to-eat cereal; 
  • Being in the sun helps too, but we don't sunbathe without SPF sunscreen, right? [13, 14]

 

At Jimmy Joy, we use the most bioavailable forms of trace minerals. For example, we add vitamin D in the form of cholecalciferol (D3) so your body can absorb it easily and as quickly as possible [17].

Plenny Shake
One serving of Plenny Shake contains a daily requirement of Vitamin D, 5.0 mcg [17].

 

 

Plenny Drink
One Plenny Drink and one Plenny Bar each contains 60% of the daily value for vitamin D - 3.0 mcg [18, 19].

 

Lactose-Free and Lactose-Reduced Dairy Products 

Lactose-free dairy products are currently the fastest growing market in the dairy industry. You've probably noticed that the number and variety of dairy products labeled "lactose-free" and "low-lactose" on supermarket shelves have grown tremendously. Milk, yogurt and even cheese labeled "lactose-free" are options for those who still don't want to give up dairy products [20].

In fact, they are no different from standard dairy products and are an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D. The difference is that lactase is added to these products, which helps to digest lactose, so the products do not cause any symptoms [20, 21].

Jimmy Joy can be also boldly classified in the lactose-free category. Our mission is to make the healthiest meals scientifically possible. So for all our products, we chose plant-based protein instead of whey. For those wondering how plant protein is different from whey protein and what its benefits are, we’re glad to recommend one of our previous articles; Plant Protein vs. Whey Protein.

 

Conclusion 

Lactose can be an excellent fuel that energizes the body. But unfortunately, most adults cannot use its power due to intolerance.

If you decide to skip or limit your intake of dairy products, make sure you are getting enough nutrients to be healthy and beautiful. And remember, we're always here to help you out!

 

 

Sources

  1. Forsgård RA (2019). Lactose digestion in humans: intestinal lactase appears to be constitutive whereas the colonic microbiome is adaptable. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6669050/
  2. J. Fernando del Rosario (2015). Lactose Intolerance. From: https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/lactose-intolerance.html#:~:text=People%20with%20lactose%20intolerance%20do,affect%20guys%20and%20girls%20equally.
  3. Causes and diagnosis of lactose intolerance. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310263/
  4. Definition & Facts for Lactose Intolerance (2018). From: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/lactose-intolerance/definition-facts
  5. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2019). Lactose digestion in humans: intestinal lactase appears to be constitutive whereas the colonic microbiome is adaptable. From: https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/110/2/273/5512720
  6. The United States National Library of Medicine (2020). Lactose intolerance. From: https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/lactose-intolerance#resources
  7. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (2018). What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance? From: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/lactose-intolerance/symptoms-causes
  8. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (2018). Diagnosis of Lactose Intolerance. From: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/lactose-intolerance/diagnosis
  9. CBHS Health Fund (2020). Understanding lactose intolerance and dairy allergies. From: https://www.cbhs.com.au/health-well-being-blog/blog-article/2020/03/20/understanding-lactose-intolerance-and-dairy-allergies
  10. James T C Li, M.D., Ph.D (2019). Food allergy vs. food intolerance: What’s the difference? From: https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/food-allergy-vs-food-intolerance-whats-the-difference/
  11. The Thunder Bay District Health Unit (2017). Milk Allergy vs. Lactose Intolerance: Know the Difference. From: https://www.tbdhu.com/sites/default/files/files/resource/2017-10/Milk%20Allergy%20vs%20Lactose%20Intolerance.pdf
  12. HealthLink BC (2019). Lactose Intolerance. From: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/hw177971
  13. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (2018). How should I change my diet if I have lactose intolerance? From: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/lactose-intolerance/eating-diet-nutrition
  14. National Institutes of Health (2020). Vitamin D. From: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
  15. National Institutes of Health (2019). Calcium. From: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-Consumer/
  16. The National Osteoporosis Society (2018). The best calcium-rich foods. From: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/best-calcium-rich-foods
  17. Introduction to Plenny Shake v3.0. From: https://jimmyjoy.com/pages/introduction-to-plenny-shake-v3-0
  18. Introduction to Jimmy Joy Plenny Drink v2.0. From: https://jimmyjoy.com/pages/introduction-to-plenny-drink-v2
  19. Introduction to Jimmy Joy Plenny Bar v2.0. From: https://jimmyjoy.com/pages/plenny-bar
  20. United Kingdom National Health Service (2019). Lactose intolerance. From: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/lactose-intolerance/treatment/
  21. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (2019). Lactose-Free Dairy Products: Market Developments, Production, Nutrition and Health Benefits. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6471712/#:~:text=Lactose%2Dfree%20dairy%20products%20can,that%20are%20intolerant%20to%20lactose.