Health topics: lactose intolerant diet plan
Symptoms of lactose intolerance and diet plans to treat it. Learn what to eat and what not to eat to stay healthy.

Lactose intolerance is a condition affecting between 30 and 50 million Americans alone. When a person is lactose intolerant, his or her body does not make enough of the lactase enzyme in the small intestine. An enzyme, of course, is a protein that speeds ups chemical reactions in the body.

The lactase enzyme helps the body to digest foods with lactose in them. Lactose is a fancy name for milk sugar. Lactase takes lactose, a complex sugar, and breaks it down into glucose, a simple sugar, which is the main substance that the body uses to fuel itself.

People can have varying degrees of lactose intolerance. Some can handle a glass of milk on occasion. Others can eat cheese with no problem. Then there are those who canít have a lick of ice cream without getting sick. Lactose intolerance manifests itself in a variety of ways. Some common symptoms include: nausea, cramps, bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea.

There seems to be both a genetic and ethnic component to developing this condition. Many people in the same families can become lactose intolerant. A good portion of Asians, Hispanics and African Americans have lactose intolerance as well.

The reasons that one becomes lactose intolerant are not widely known. Some people are believed to have been born with lactase deficiencies. In fact, the body decreases its lactase production significantly after the age of 2.

Other people develop this condition as a result of other conditions, usually in the digestive tract. IBS and Crohnís Disease are considered related disorders.

Lactose intolerance is best treated by following a special diet plan. Of course, this plan can be customized based upon your symptoms and food preferences. Some have the condition more severely than others. These are the people who should avoid all foods containing lactose.

Lactose-free milks, cheeses and other dairy products are becoming more and more common in grocery shelves. Soy products can make a tasty and healthy alternative as well.

Other tips to follow while on a lactose-reduced or lactose-free diet plan are:

1) If you must drink milk, drink smaller quantities of it. Have it with meals as well.

2) Stick with whole milk or calcium-fortified soy milk.

3) Avoid buttermilk, acidophilus milk and frozen yogurt. These products have often undergone significant chemical changes and fermentation which may make your symptoms worse.

4) Eat plenty of cruciferous (green) vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, kale, mustard greens and more. They are high in calcium.

If youíre not eating dairy products, you should certainly supplement the loss of calcium with more vegetables and soy-based products. You can even drink calcium-fortified orange juice if you are especially concerned about a lack of calcium. Supplements are probably not necessary, but, if you are concerned about it, you should check with your doctor.

You should also actively read food labels and become aware of hidden lactose in food. If you must eat a piece of cheese or that bit of ice cream, there are products out there such as Lactaid which can be taken in pill form prior to your eating the food with lactose in it. They do provide some relief.

Basically, youíll have to experiment to find which combinations work best for you. You can eat a healthy and balanced diet that is full of delicious food and complete nutrition without lactose-based products. It may be difficult at first, but, if you have lactose intolerance your body will thank you for it. Remember that, left untreated or ignored, lactose intolerance can turn into worse digestive conditions or make you pretty miserable.