Lactose Intolerance 101: 21 Causes, Symptoms, and Dairy Alternatives


Lactose Intolerance 101 | If you or someone you love is lactose intolerant, this post is a great resource. You'll learn the difference between a lactose intolerance and a lactose allergy, signs and symptoms to watch for, common causes, and a list of our favorite dairy alternatives that are high in calcium. A dairy intolerance does not mean you cannot enjoy your favorite recipes, and this post will help you learn how to make dairy free meals for the whole family - including desserts!

Have you ever had some less-than-pleasant digestive symptoms after eating dairy? If so, you may be wondering if you’re lactose intolerant.

This post will help you determine if you are in fact lactose intolerant, and help you find some tasty alternatives to traditional dairy.

What Is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose is a type of sugar that is found in dairy products. Lactose is made up of two simple sugars, glucose and galactose.

When someone isn’t able to digest lactose, they are lactose intolerant. This means their bodies aren’t making enough of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to digest lactose. Lactose then moves through the body, undigested.

Because of this, they can experience digestive problems whenever they eat milk products, causing uncomfortable symptoms and affecting their quality of life.

Lactose Intolerance vs Dairy Allergy: What’s The Difference?

Many believe that lactose intolerance is simply a dairy allergy. But in fact, the causes of each and how they affect your body are actually quite different.

Unlike lactose intolerance, which involves the digestive system, a dairy allergy involves the immune system. With a dairy allergy, your body reacts to the proteins that are found in milk products, treating them like invaders.

The body has an allergic reaction to these proteins, causing symptoms that range from mild to severe. People who have a dairy allergy may experience a rash or hives, swelling in the lips or face, have trouble breathing or swallowing, or even experience a loss of consciousness.

5 Lactose Intolerance Symptoms

People with lactose intolerance start having symptoms anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming foods or beverages that contain lactose. If you are lactose intolerant, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  1. Bloating
  2. Gas
  3. Nausea
  4. Diarrhea
  5. Abdominal cramps

If you are regularly experiencing any of these symptoms, or they get severe, make sure to reach out to your doctor for help with treatment options.

4 Lactose Intolerance Types and Causes

There are four different types of lactose intolerance:

  1. Primary – Primary lactose intolerance is the most common type. It occurs as someone ages and begins producing less lactase. Believed to be genetic, this type of lactose intolerance is found mostly in people of African and Asian descent.
  2. Secondary – Secondary lactose intolerance occurs in people who have a condition that directly affects the small intestine, such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, or those undergoing chemotherapy. Lactase is produced in the small intestine. For those experiencing these conditions, the wall of the small intestine can become inflamed, reducing the production of lactase.
  3. Congenital – Congenital lactose intolerance is rare, and presents itself in newborns. Both parents must possess the gene mutation that causes congenital lactose intolerance. Because breast milk contains lactose, babies are at risk if they aren’t diagnosed quickly. In fact, it can even be fatal. Parents should look out for symptoms such as severe diarrhea.
  4. Developmental – Developmental lactose intolerance also occurs in newborns, most often in those that are born prematurely. It occurs when the digestive system is not yet fully developed. As a baby grows, it usually resolves itself. Parents can help prevent digestive issues by giving them lactose-free formula.

12 Dairy Alternatives that Are High in Calcium

If you’re searching for foods that are high in calcium, but don’t contain dairy, here are 12 tasty dairy alternatives.

  1. Calcium-fortified juices – Juices fortified with calcium are a delicious way to add calcium to your diet without the dairy. Keep in mind that some juices can be high in sugar, so be sure to read the labels.
  2. Non-dairy milks – You can find plenty of milk-substitutes that are calcium fortified. Almond, soy, and oat milk are good options. These non-dairy milks will help you reach your calcium goal for the day without any lactose.
  3. Canned fish – Fish is a great source of calcium as well as protein. Choose fish that include bones to help you get the most calcium, such as salmon, whitebait, or sardines.
  4. Tofu – Tofu is made from soy milk protein. This meat substitute has 43% of your daily value of calcium in just half a cup. Look for tofu made with calcium sulfate to get the most benefit.
  5. Tempeh – Tempeh is not only a great alternative to meat, it’s also a great source of calcium. Made from soybeans, you’re also getting protein and a good amount of fiber.
  6. Edamame – You can find edamame in restaurant dishes or in the frozen foods aisle at your local grocery store. Add them to a dish or eat them on their own for a great calcium-rich snack.
  7. Collard greens – This leafy green is always a great choice when you want to add calcium to your diet without dairy. With its mild flavor, you can get 27% of your daily value in just one cup.
  8. Okra – Okra is not only high in calcium (it contains 12% of your daily value in one cup), but it’s also a great source of fiber as well as other vitamins and minerals.
  9. Arugula – This spicy salad green gives you plenty of calcium in just a small serving. One cup of arugula contains 3% of your daily value.
  10. Dried figs – Sweet and delicious, figs are a perfect calcium-rich snack. They are higher in calories, so make sure you’re keeping track of your serving size.
  11. Broccoli – Broccoli is a superfood for a reason. When it comes to calcium, just one cup of broccoli contains 6% of your daily value.
  12. Spinach – With a whopping 25% of your daily value of calcium in just one cup, spinach is a great food to add to your diet. Raw or boiled, you’ll still get all the benefits.

By making some simple changes to your diet, you can limit or even eliminate lactose, making you (and your gut!) happy.


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