Lactose intolerance can make even a happy, easygoing child miserable. And when your child is uncomfortable, so are you. But what is lactose intolerance and how does it affect everyday life?
“Lactose intolerance affects the digestive system and it occurs when an individual no longer produces an enzyme called lactase, which breaks down lactose, or the natural sugars in milk products,” explains Kelli Wall, a metro Detroit Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Kids and adults with lactose intolerance will often feel bloated, gassy and uncomfortable after drinking milk or eating dairy foods.
“It’s very common, and more prevalent in certain ethnic groups,” Wall explains. As many as 75% of African Americans, for instance, are lactose intolerant, she says.
If your child complains of an upset stomach, bloating or gas after drinking milk or eating ice cream, lactose intolerance could be the culprit. It’s important to consult with your child’s doctor for a diagnosis or to rule out other conditions. If your doctor discovers your child is lactose intolerant, don’t worry — lactose intolerance doesn’t have to have a huge impact on your child, Wall says.
“From a nutritional standpoint, it’s important to include dairy foods in your child’s diet, and there are plenty of alternatives, so lactose intolerance doesn’t have to slow your child down,” she says. “You don’t have to eliminate dairy altogether.”
Nutritional needs, even with lactose intolerance
Milk and other dairy foods contain calcium and vitamin D, which are important for growing children, Wall says. “Milk really is a one-stop shop for many important nutrients, especially those that help bone growth and development,” she says. Milk contains 13 essential nutrients and is a great source of protein for your child.
Lactose intolerance is an individual condition and each person will experience different symptoms. Here, Wall shares some everyday solutions for enjoying the healthful benefits of dairy foods, even with lactose intolerance:
- Lactose-free milk, which is 100% real dairy with lactase added to break down the lactose, is widely available, easy to digest and provides the same essential nutrients. “These products come in whole and low-fat versions,” Wall says.
- Even if milk and ice cream cause symptoms, yogurt and hard cheeses, like Swiss or cheddar, may be more easily tolerated, so experiment to see what might work for your child, Wall suggests.
- Experiment with quantity. “Some people are able to drink small amounts of milk at a time with no problems,” she says. Research suggests that many people can tolerate 12 grams of lactose, or the amount in about one cup of milk, according to the National Institutes of Health. Try small amounts of milk with meals and add yogurt or cheese, if tolerated, for snacks at other times during the day.
Pay attention to your child’s overall healthy diet, too. Include a variety of fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats, Wall suggests. Visit MyPlate.gov for information on healthy eating for every age group.
“Food is to be enjoyed and can create a lot of happy memories and be a part of your cultural identity,” Wall says. “As science progresses, there will always be alternatives to make it work, even if we are talking about smaller quantities of milk or enjoying lactose-free milk or yogurt. I don’t want people to believe that their child can’t have certain foods because of lactose intolerance.”
Content brought to you by Milk Means More. Visit milkmeansmore.org.