Lactose intolerant consumers can still enjoy milk and limited dairy consumption, regardless of what they may have thought in the past. This is the takeaway from the live webinar this afternoon sponsored by the National Dairy Council, hosted by Jennifer Goodrich, senior analyst at the Hartman Group and Robin Plotkin, registered dietician and nutrition communications consultant. The one-hour session discussed lactose intolerance perceptions from the public and ways to bridge the communications gap between patients and health professionals.
The National Dairy Council contends that even with a diagnosis of lactose intolerance, up to 12 grams of lactose may still be comfortably consumed in a day without triggering gastrointestinal distress. Twelve grams doesn’t sound like much, but it’s actually the combined equivalent of one-half cup ice cream, half cup Greek yogurt, half cup cottage cheese, and an ounce of hard cheese.
The confusion surrounding lactose intolerance was the focal point of the discussion. According to a study conducted by the Hartman Group in 2022, consumers were not only self-diagnosing their condition, they were also stymied by milk substitution choices. “Dairy sensitive consumers don’t want to be full time detectives,” explained analyst Jennifer Goodrich. “They want it to work for their stomach, taste good, be relatively low in calories, low cost and have some nutritional benefit.”
Goodrich went on to say that although consumers have a vague notion of lactose intolerance, they only recognize the symptoms, not the cause. If someone experiences stomach distress after drinking whole milk on a regular basis, they may assume a diagnosis of intolerance without speaking to a qualified health care provider, then decide they must cut out all dairy products to alleviate the symptoms. This may not be the case. Some parents may also self-diagnose their children as lactose intolerant and eliminate otherwise nutritious food from their diets. According to the Dairy Council, diagnosing a child with lactose intolerance is definitely a misconception.
Lactose intolerance is defined as an, “adult condition.” Children may experience a milk “allergy” but true signs of intolerance to lactose typically do not emerge until late-adolescence or adulthood. African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians and Asian Americans report higher incidents than other ethnic groups, though no reason was given.
How does the Council propose we bridge the communication gap? By requiring doctors to ask more questions about their patient’s symptoms, then providing more education about the amount of lactose in foods, not ask patients to ban them entirely. Brand managers who market dairy products to consumers are urged to concentrate on package labeling, using language consumers will pay attention to including, “easy on the stomach,” or “easily digestible.”
One of the co-speakers during today’s webinar, Robin Plotkin, is a champion of the Dairy Council’s message because she used to be one of the misinformed masses. “I was diagnosed with lactose intolerance so I gave up dairy products,” Robin explained. “Then, after I had children, I found myself finishing the last bite of cheese from one plate or what was left of a container of yogurt from another, until finally I discovered I could still eat dairy products in moderation.”
According to ChooseMyPlate.Gov, adults should have at least three cups of milk, cheese yogurt or milk-based desserts per day. Dairy is an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. Consuming it leads to better bone health, weight management and may reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and colon cancer.
Lactose intolerance can be uncomfortable but it can also be misdiagnosed and confusing to treat without proper education. If you experience discomfort while drinking milk or other dairy products, see your physician for a hydrogen breath test or blood test to measure the glucose in your bloodstream. After a definitive diagnosis, ask questions about lactose and define your specific food triggers. Chances are, you can still enjoy that gooey cheesy pizza or that carton of Greek yogurt, in moderation, after all.