Ever wondered why you experience stomach discomfort after consuming milk or dairy products?

Fret not, an estimated 65% of the population endures the same struggle due to lactose intolerance – a condition that is more common than you think.

What is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is a condition in which an individual experiences digestive discomfort after consuming lactose, a form of carbohydrate that is primarily found in milk and milk products.

A lactose intolerant individual does not make lactase, an enzyme that is required to digest and break down lactose into simple sugars glucose and galactose, which can then be absorbed into the blood. Instead, undigested lactose moves through the gut, where it is fermented by bacteria – leading to digestive discomfort such as:

·       Bloating

·       Stomach cramps

·       Gas

·       Diarrhea

·       Nausea

·       Vomiting 

These symptoms usually develop within 30 minutes to 2 hours after consumption, with the severity depending on how much lactose an individual consumes and can tolerate. 

Causes of Lactose Intolerance

Our body naturally produces lactase during infancy in order to digest milk but gradually decreases production over time to a sufficient amount that allows us to consume small amounts of dairy in the typical diet.  However, there are 3 causes of lactose intolerance.

1. Primary

The most common form is caused by a sharp decrease in lactase production that persists into adulthood. It may be partially caused by genes as studies have shown how lactose intolerance is more common among Asians and Africans as compared to Europeans and Americans.


Decrease in lactase production due to inflammation in the intestine due to illness or injury such as coeliac disease, Crohn’s disease, chemotherapy or long course of antibiotics. Lactase production may be restored if the underlying illness is treated.


In rare cases, a genetic disorder leads to congenital lactose intolerance, which affects newborn babies who produce very little or no lactase.

Treatment for Lactose Intolerance

While there is no treatment available to produce more lactase enzyme, symptoms can be controlled by removing milk and dairy products from the diet. It is also important to read food labels to identify any source of dairy in the ingredient list.

What foods contain lactose?

Lactose is found in dairy products including Cow’s milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt and butter.

Other foods that could contain lactose due to added dairy products include:

  •  Creamy sauces
  •  Biscuits
  • Cakes and bread
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Instant meals
  • Potato chips 

Read through the product ingredient list and watch out for the following terms:

Milk, Whey, Casein, Curds, Cheese, Milk Solids, Milk byproducts.

Besides that, look out for the statement “may contain milk”. 

Alternatives to Dairy

To most people, dairy products are an important source of calcium, protein, and Vitamins A and D. Hence, it is important to obtain these nutrients from other food sources when eliminating dairy. Some food alternatives for these nutrients include:

1.     Calcium: Sardine, dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, beans, broccoli

2.     Vitamin A: Carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, papaya, mango

3.     Vitamin D: Exposure to natural sunlight, fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel.



By Nutritionist Zuanne
Anna Hoo Clinic