Allergies and food intolerances have been on the rise over the last 10 years.  One of the most commonly seen allergies or intolerance is to lactose.  Lactose is a sugar that is naturally found in milk and other milk products.   A lactose intolerance however should not be confused with a milk allergy. 

The difference between the two are explained below:

-Lactose intolerance is a person’s inability to digest lactose.  This inability usually results in digestive difficulty and uncomfortable digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, and nausea.

- Milk allergy is not associated with the naturally occurring lactose in milk but rather a protein specifically found in cow’s milk.  The result is an immune system response similar to a bee sting or peanut allergy such as hives.

If you find yourself lactose intolerant, then you will need to start eating a lactose free diet in order to stop your digestive symptoms.  Luckily, there are many people who also are eating a lactose free diet and therefore there are now more lactose free food items on the market than ever before.  Many people use milk products as a means to get an appropriate amount of calcium.  Calcium is important for the body’s development and thus it will be important for those people eating a lactose free diet to find calcium other places.  Other foods beside dairy that are high in calcium are broccoli, dried herbs, sesame seeds, tofu, almonds, flax seeds, green leafy vegetables, Brazil nuts, and herrings [1074]

One important thing to consider when starting a lactose free diet is that not all products made with milk have lactose and different milk products have different levels of lactose.  Milk has one of the highest concentrations of lactose and therefore should be avoided by most lactose intolerant people.  However yogurts, hard cheeses, and cottage cheese all have lower levels.  In fact, most yogurts contain naturally good bacteria.  This bacteria has been thought to mask the effects of lactose in yogurt and stop upsetting the digestive system. 

Hard cheeses are another low lactose milk product with high calcium benefits.  When cheese is being made, the whey and lactose is removed from the cheese.  If the cheese is aged then most if not all of the lactose will be gone.  Cheeses with low lactose levels include cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, and Colby [1075].  In addition, artisanal cheeses found at a gourmet grocery store or local cheese shop will also be low in lactose. 

If you have recently found yourself lactose intolerant, do not become depressed and believe that you will never be able to eat any milk products like cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese again.   Keep in mind that this type of intolerance is based on levels.  Therefore, some people can have more milk products than others and not experience any symptoms.  Try to find foods that your specific body will tolerate and get creative in the kitchen.  Substitute your regular cow milk for rice milk or another type of milk that does not irritate your digestive system.