Lactose is the sugar in dairy products. You'll find lactose in more than milk—it's in baked goods, salad dressings, non-dairy creamers, gravies, sauces, margarines and shortenings and a variety of processed foods. That means you need to read food labels if you want to cut it out of your diet. Removing lactose from your diet can have several benefits, especially if you are intolerant to it.
About 30 million people in the United States have some degree of lactose intolerance by age 20, according to the National Institutes of Health. If you are among them, eliminating lactose from your diet can alleviate uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, foul smelling stools, and nausea. Lactose intolerance is the result of low levels of an enzyme called lactase in your small intestine, according to the Mayo Clinic. When your lactase levels are low, most of the lactose you consume goes into your colon without being processed. There, your normal intestinal bacteria interact with the lactose and cause your gastrointestinal symptoms.
Cutting lactose from your diet may improve your absorption of nutrients from other foods if you have intolerance, according to NIH. Malnutrition, slow growth and weight loss are sometimes experienced by people who are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance is more common African, African-American, Asian, Native American and Mediterranean people than among people of northern and western European descent. It can come about at different times in life, and can even start in childhood. For example, in African-Americans, this intolerance often starts early as age 2. In Caucasians, it can affect children older than 5, according to NIH. In rare cases, babies are born with lactose intolerance, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Vegan Health Benefits
Avoiding lactose helps you follow a vegan diet. Some people switch to this plant-based diet for ethical reasons, but an increasing number of people are utilizing it for its health benefits, notes Alisa Marie Fleming in her book, "Go Dairy Free." Plant-based diets are extremely effective for managing and preventing diabetes. The vegan diet also has cancer prevention, heart health and weight loss benefits. A vegan diet, while it sounds strict, is actually easy to follow, says Fleming, because you don't have to measure out portions, count calories or limit carbohydrates.
Cutting lactose from your diet helps in following the gluten-free, casein-free diet favored by many parents of children who have autism. Casein is actually the protein in milk, but eliminating milk products gets rid of both the protein and sugar in your diet, notes Fleming. Searching for any foods with ingredients that include "lact" make it simpler to exclude milk products. People who have autism often are intolerant of both dairy and gluten, notes Marilyn Le Breton in the book, "Diet Intervention and Autism." Though official scientific evidence does not back the gluten-free, casein-free diet for improving autism symptoms, many parents report immediate improvement when they wean their kids from these substances, says Marilyn Le Breton in the book, "Diet Intervention and Autism."