If you have lactose intolerance -- a condition characterized by digestive symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea and gas after eating or drinking milk or milk products -- you likely know that consuming foods with lactose can lead to a terrible stomachache. Once the symptoms of lactose intolerance hit, there is little you can do to stop them. Your best bet is to prevent the tummy trouble associated with lactose intolerance before it begins.
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Determine Your Level of Intolerance
To figure out your tolerance level, avoid all lactose-containing foods for a few weeks. Then, begin adding in very small quantities and monitor your symptoms. Ask yourself: How much -- or little-- dairy can I handle without experiencing a stomachache or discomfort? If only a large amount of lactose gives you discomfort, make smarter food choices, such as choosing hard cheeses like cheddar, which are lower in lactose, and yogurts, which contain active cultures and so are easier to digest.
Take a Lactase Supplement
To have your ice cream cake and eat it, too, supplement with the digestive enzyme lactase to prevent bloating and intestinal distress. Choose a lactase enzyme powder or liquid that you can add to foods to predigest lactose. Another convenient option is lactase tablets, which you can take immediately after eating a dairy product. Choose lactose-free milk and dairy-free products that are rich in calcium, such as broccoli, beans, soy milk and figs, to avoid osteoporosis.
Eat Dairy With Other Foods
Once you've figured out your tolerance for lactose, be it an 8-ounce serving or five servings, it's best to eat dairy with a snack or meal. Eating dairy on an empty stomach can worsen your symptoms. Consider that many products, including breads, cereals, chocolate, soups, puddings, salad dressings, instant cocoa mix, candies, frozen dinners and hot dogs, may all contain lactose.
Reading Labels for Lactose
The label may not always say "contains lactose," but it may use the following terminology: whey, curds, milk byproducts, dry milk solids, nonfat dry milk powder, casein, galactose, skim milk powder, milk sugar or whey protein. Also consider milk percentage. Fat slows the passage of lactose through your digestive system, giving you more time to digest it. If your tolerance is one serving of lactose per day, consider swapping out your skim milk for 1 percent or 2 percent for decreased distress.