Lactose intolerance is a digestive disorder, due to inability to digest lactose sugar found in milk and milk products. It can be recognised by the presence of various symptoms including bloating or flatulence, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps after consuming lactose containing food.

What causes it? It is caused by reduced production of the lactase enzyme present in your gut responsible for lactose sugar digestion. Additionally, in secondary type of lactase deficiency, the intolerance may arise due to infection, or gastrointestinal surgery. Although, it is less common as compared to primary lactose intolerance.

The diagnosis of lactose intolerance requires proper assessment of lactose digestion and signs of symptoms.

According to a study carried out in India, in order to determine the incidence of lactose intolerance in healthy individuals  from different parts of the country, it was found that 66.6% of the subjects from South India were shown to be intolerant.  On the other hand, the incidence in North Indian was much lower, i.e.,approximately 27.4%.


Aim is to reduce malabsorption problem and improve tolerance.

People with lactose intolerance need to omit dairy based products from their diet and choose alternative food options instead to get the nutrients as milk is a good source of protein, calcium and other important nutrients needed for strong bones and overall health.

Also some people with lactose intolerance can tolerate small amount of lactose and may tolerate certain products like butter, yoghurt , and certain cheese with no or negligible lactose content such as parmesan cheese and cheddar cheese.

Lactose containing foods

  • Cow / buffalo/ Goat milk
  • All kinds of cheese
  • Ice creams and other milk based desserts
  • Curd/yoghurt
  • White butter
  • Milk chocolates
  • Milk bakery items
  • Milk gravies eg white sauce

Before buying any processed product, check the label and do not purchase products with these ingredients such as dry milk solids, malted milk sour cream.

Alternative high calcium foods

  • Fortified non dairy milk eg soya milk
  • Fish with bones
  • Dried figs
  • Broccoli
  • Soybeans
  • Tofu

Steps to improve lactose tolerance level

  • Building up your tolerance is the only solution.  It is important to understand how much lactose your body can tolerate at at time and you can adjust lactose containing food intake according to tolerance level.
  • Gradually start having lactose containing foods and initiate with  better tolerated items like yoghurt, hard cheese, buttermilk.
  • Drink low lactose milk with other foods or else spread out milk consumption short intervals.
  • If you still face problem and see no sign of  improvement in symptoms, visit your doctor.

Tandon et al(1981).Lactose intolerance in North and South Indians.The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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