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This was exclusive to certain regions of the world, says nutritional researcher Dennis Savaiano, PhD. In nature, most animals that drink milk as babies become lactose intolerant in adulthood, including, ironically, cows.

Further reading

Ideally, your small intestine produces enough of an enzyme called lactase, which is the key component that breaks down the lactose in dairy foods. Up to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant, and the problem most commonly affects the people of African, Asian, and Native American descent. However, dairy foods are an important source of calcium for Americans, providing three-fourths of our intake of the mineral, says Savaiano, an expert on lactose intolerance. Even if you think you have lactose intolerance, you can still enjoy milk, cheese, and other dairy foods without discomfort.

Try drinking 2 glasses of skim milk on an empty stomach, he suggests.

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However, even if you do have lactose intolerance, odds are good that you can handle 8 ounces or less at a time, Savaiano says. Calcium-fortified juices and cereals, calcium supplements, and lactase enzymes, pills, or lactase-treated milk can also help you maintain a healthy calcium intake. More great sources of calcium if you're lactose intolerant.

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Savaiano agrees, suggesting instead of drinking just a glass of milk, have it with food. The fermentation process that produces yogurt depends on organisms that also produce lactase, the enzyme in short supply in lactose-intolerant people, says Naresh Jain, MD. The bacteria themselves also probably break down the lactose in the milk. Here are some other tips on yogurt. Several companies make lactase enzyme and add it to milk.

Do Lactase Lactaid Pills Work for Lactose Intolerance?

Or you can buy it in liquid form and add it yourself. Also, a few drops of the lactase liquid in a quart of milk will render the milk flatulence-free and give it a slightly sweeter taste. The tablets and drops are available over the counter in drugstores. Supermarkets nationwide carry Lact-Aid milk, which is free of lactose.

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This is because it contains less lactose per 1-cup serving than whole, fat-free, and all types of milk in between. Here are 6 smart uses for buttermilk. When eating cheese, stick with harder varieties, says Savaiano. Lactose is water-soluble and is found in the whey, which is runny, rather than the curds, during the cheese-making process. Hard cheeses are made with curds while, for example, cottage cheese contains the whey. Lactose is a common filler in many kinds of medication and nutritional supplements. Some people find that they can tolerate full-fat dairy products, such as whole milk and cheese, more easily than dairy products with no or reduced fat.

Probiotics are living organisms present in your intestines that help maintain a healthy digestive system. Probiotics are also available as active or "live" cultures in some yogurts and as supplements in capsule form.

What to Eat This Week

They are sometimes used for gastrointestinal conditions, such as diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome. They may also help your body digest lactose. Probiotics are generally considered safe and may be worth a try if other methods don't help. Start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner if you have signs or symptoms that suggest you may have lactose intolerance. Because appointments can be brief, it's a good idea to be prepared for your appointment.

Here's some information to help you get ready, and know what to expect from your doctor. Keep track of your daily servings of different dairy foods, including milk, ice cream, yogurt and cottage cheese, along with when you have them and what you eat with them. Also let your doctor know which dairy foods, in what amounts, are likely to give you symptoms.

This information can help your doctor make a diagnosis. If you think you may have lactose intolerance, try cutting dairy products from your diet for a few days to see if your symptoms ease. Let your doctor know if your symptoms got better on the days you didn't have dairy products. Mayo Clinic does not endorse companies or products.

Advertising revenue supports our not-for-profit mission. This content does not have an English version. This content does not have an Arabic version. Diagnosis Your doctor may suspect lactose intolerance based on your symptoms and your response to reducing the amount of dairy foods in your diet. Your doctor can confirm the diagnosis by conducting one or more of the following tests: Lactose tolerance test. The lactose tolerance test gauges your body's reaction to a liquid that contains high levels of lactose.

Two hours after drinking the liquid, you'll undergo blood tests to measure the amount of glucose in your bloodstream. If your glucose level doesn't rise, it means your body isn't properly digesting and absorbing the lactose-filled drink.

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  8. Hydrogen breath test. This test also requires you to drink a liquid that contains high levels of lactose.

    Healthy Diets and Lactose Intolerance - Alissa Lupu - NewYork-Presbyterian

    Then your doctor measures the amount of hydrogen in your breath at regular intervals. Normally, very little hydrogen is detectable. However, if your body doesn't digest the lactose, it will ferment in the colon, releasing hydrogen and other gases, which are absorbed by your intestines and eventually exhaled. Larger than normal amounts of exhaled hydrogen measured during a breath test indicate that you aren't fully digesting and absorbing lactose. Stool acidity test. For infants and children who can't undergo other tests, a stool acidity test may be used.