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Lactose intolerance is one of the most common food intolerances. Lactose intolerance occurs as a result of shortage of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose, the main sugar in milk.

When there is insufficient lactase to digest the amount of lactose consumed, nausea, cramps, diarrhoea and bloating may result. Severity of symptoms depends on the amount of lactose an individual can absorb in relation to the amount ingested.

This was shared by the Nutrition and Dietetics Department, and the Allergy Service, both departments from KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group.

How to relieve symptoms of lactose intolerance

Symptoms of lactose intolerance can be relieved through avoiding or limiting the amount of lactose-containing foods consumed.

Lactose-containing foods include milk and dairy products including ice cream and soft cheeses (e.g. cottage or cream cheese)

Some may find that they are able to tolerate fermented milk products better e.g. yoghurt and hard cheeses, as the lactose content is reduced during the fermentation process.

Those with very low tolerance of lactose may benefit from reading the packaging labels to identify hidden lactose infoods such as whey, curds, milk by-products, dry milk solids and non-fat dry milk powder.

Note that lactose intolerance is different from cow’s milk protein allergy, where the offending compound is milk protein rather than lactose.

Substitutes for milk and dairy

Milk and dairy products form an important source of energy, protein and calcium for growing children. If your child has lactose intolerance, you can:

  1. Choose low-lactose or lactose-free milks
  2. Offer calcium-fortified soy milk, rice milk, oat milk or nut milk. While most soy milks are equivalent in protein to cow’s milk, the protein content of rice, oat and nut milks are often significantly lower
  3. Offer milk & dairy products with foods as eating solid foods will reduce the rate of digestion and hence absorption of lactose
  4. Give small amounts at each time e.g. ½ cup milk and increase the quantity gradually according to tolerance

Find out more about food additives and the symptoms they trigger in those with food intolerance.

Ref: M19