Love your morning cereal or afternoon latte, but not the bloating and digestion problems that come with being lactose intolerant? Now more than ever, there are options for the estimated 30 million to 50 million Americans who can't stomach regular cow's milk.
"Lactose is a sugar in milk and other dairy products that is digested with the help of an intestinal enzyme called lactase. If your body doesn't produce enough lactase, you can become lactose intolerant," says Cali Kent, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and the Supervisor of Clinical Dietetics at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. "Some milks have been engineered to work around that issue, while dairy substitutes avoid lactose entirely. Your choice might be based on taste or on dietary preferences, such as incorporating more plant-based foods into your meals."
Among the products on the market:
These cow milks have the lactase enzyme added to them. They can be found at most grocery stores.
Cows can produce A1 and A2 proteins, and supporters of this type of milk believe the A1 protein can make people more vulnerable to indigestion labeled as lactose intolerance however, research is limited and inconclusive. A2 milk comes from cows bred to produce only the A2 protein. A New Zealand brand offers it in stores in the United States as A2 Milk; some boutique dairy producers may also sell A2-only milk. A2 Milk is not suitable for anyone medically diagnosed with lactose intolerance, galactosemia or cows’ milk allergy until more conclusive research is obtained.
These types of milks have grown plentiful in recent years--it's not uncommon to find rice, almond, oat, coconut, cashew and other plant-based options on supermarket shelves--and they are naturally lactose free. "Look for unsweetened varieties to cut down on added sugars, and there should be limited additives," Kent says. "If you want to put in the time and effort, research recipes for homemade plant-based milks as well."
Kent adds that there are other cow's milk alternatives, but they may not be as helpful for those who are lactose intolerant. "Some people seek out products made with sheep's or goat's milk, thinking they may be easier on their stomachs, but these animal-derived milks also have lactose. It may take some experimenting and trying different milks to see what suits you, but the great thing is that there are a variety of choices available to consumers today."
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.