inability to digest lactose-a sugar found in milk-can cause
children to miss out on favorites such as pizza, ice cream and
cheese. But a new study published in Nutrition Today found that
the rate of lactose intolerance is lower than previously
Dear Good Sense Eating, are "Non-Dairy," "Dairy-Free"
and "Parve" foods lactose-free?
Not necessarily since Food and Drug Administration regulations do
not define these terms for food labels. A product labeled
"Non-Dairy" or "Dairy-Free" may mean that the milk fat has been
replaced by a vegetable fat but may still contain other
ingredients, such as whey or casein. "Pareve" or "Parve" labeled
foods contain no dairy-based ingredients and are free of
Theresa Nicklas, DrPh, of the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition
Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine, and her team found
the incidence of lactose intolerance was 12 percent (7.7 percent of
European Americans, 10 percent of Hispanic Americans and 19.5
percent of African Americans) based on a phone survey of 1,084
individuals. The study, sponsored by the National Dairy Council,
differs greatly from previous studies reporting that 15 percent of
European Americans, 50 percent of Mexican-Americans and 80 percent
of African Americans suffer from lactose maldigestion.
Few experience symptoms
During normal digestion, lactose is broken down by lactase, an
enzyme in the small intestine. While babies are born with plenty of
it, lactase production drops off between the ages of 3 and 5. The
result? Certain people develop the classic symptoms of gas,
bloating and abdominal pain due to their inability to break down
However, symptoms are not experienced by all. In fact, research
suggests that regardless of ethnic background, only a minority of
people actually experience effects. Several studies found the
number of symptoms reported by maldigesters after drinking regular
milk were no different than after a lactose-free placebo.
Some children develop lactose intolerance after being hit by a
viral infection like the flu. While most of these occurrences are
temporary, lasting several days to weeks, kids are able to ease
back into normal dairy food consumption gradually.
What if you suspect your child is intolerant of lactose? He can be
tested by an elimination diet, where he is taken off all dairy
foods for two weeks. In addition to milk and its products,
ingredient lists must be scoured to ensure hidden lactose doesn't
appear. If your child's symptoms disappear while on the
lactose-free diet, yet return when they're reintroduced into the
diet, it's lactose intolerance. More formal diagnostic tests
include a hydrogen breath test or an intestinal biopsy.
Where lactose tends to hide
Foods where dairy ingredients are added may include baked goods,
cereals, instant soups, salad dressings, breakfast drinks,
margarine and pancake, biscuit and cookie mixes. Search the food
label ingredient lists for whey, curds, milk byproducts and dry
Even if your child is unable to digest lactose, he should consume
some dairy products to ensure he receives enough calcium and
vitamin D, according to a 2006 report by the American Academy of
Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition. Many affected children are able
to tolerate small amounts, especially if they're paired with some
non-dairy foods. It also takes time to build lactase
Dairy foods that include live cultures that pre-digest some of the
sugar-such as yogurt, buttermilk or kefir-may be well tolerated.
Although yogurt is high in lactose, its bacterial cultures produce
lactase, which allows for easy digestion. Aged cheeses also tend to
be low in lactose. Finally, lactose-treated milk, such as Lactaid,
or the over-the-counter lactase enzyme pills can also be
Bottom line: Most children are still able to enjoy nutrient-rich
foods and beverages containing lactose.
Lactose content of common foods
Sources: USDA national nutrient database for standard
Egg Salad Twist
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Fill medium saucepan with cold water. Add pinch of salt and
eggs, bringing to a boil over high heat. Once water is
boiling, remove from heat and cover. Let rest for 20
minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Submerge the eggs
in cold water and let set for 10 minutes to stop further
Remove shells and chop egg to desired consistency. Mix
remaining ingredients into eggs. Serve in butter lettuce,
similar to a taco.
Variation: Mix in chopped tomato, avocado, cucumber,
scallions or dill pickle.
Nutrition facts: 157 calories, 9 g fat, 3 g saturated
fat, 430 mg cholesterol, 357 mg sodium, 5 g carbohydrates, 0 g
fiber, 1 g sugar, 13 g protein, 13% DV vitamin A, 0% DV vitamin
C, 7% DV calcium, 8% DV iron.
Printed with permission from A Recipe for Life by the Doctor's
Dietitian by Susan Dopart, M.S., R.D. www.SusanDopart.com
Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a nutritionist living in Naperville.
See more of Christine's stories here.
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