New strategies exist for lactose intolerance, which should help a substantial number of people consume more dairy products.

In a national sample of 3,452 adults, one out of eight — or 12.3 percent — perceived themselves to be lactose intolerant, according to this recent issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Besides the total number of people involved, there are misperceptions surrounding lactose intolerance, Karen Kafer, vice president of health partnerships and communications for the National Dairy Council, told those attending a lactose intolerance webinar on Tuesday.

For most people affected, dairy products can be part of a healthy diet, pointed out Roberta Duyff, a nationally recognized food and nutrition consultant. “Most people with lactose intolerance can enjoy three servings of dairy every day without unpleasant GI (or gastrointestinal) symptoms,” she said.

She cited the following statement from Melvin Heyman, a physician with the American Academy of Pediatrics:

“Treatment of lactose intolerance by elimination of milk and other dairy products is not usually necessary given new approaches to lactose intolerance…”

Among those new approaches:

  • Include milk with other foods in a meal. “Mixing milk with other foods, such as soups and cereals, will ease digestion,” Duyff said.
  • Consume live-culture yogurts.
  • Choose natural cheese with minimum amounts of lactose.
  • Try milk products with reduced lactose or zero lactose.
  • Ease into it if you haven’t been consuming dairy. One of the speakers at Tuesday’s webinar, Dr. Robert Heaney, professor of medicine at Creighton University, suggested starting off with half a serving of dairy with each meal. “It may take two or three weeks for the gut to adapt and build up tolerance,” he said. “Just stick with it and you will get there quicker than you realize.”

Dr. Heaney emphasized the nutritional advantages of dairy products.

“Milk is more than calcium,” he said. “It contains a whole host of other things that will improve your diet quality substantially.”

For instance, milk contains three of the nutrients — calcium, vitamin D and potassium — that are often under-consumed by people, given the nature of today’s diets and eating habits. If people cut dairy products out of their diets, they will get even less of these essential nutrients.   

Dairy is also a source of high-quality protein, Dr. Heaney said. Indeed, dairy tops the list for having the best nutrient value for calories consumed, he said.

Tuesday’s webinar was jointly sponsored by the National Dairy Council and Creighton University Health Sciences Continuing Education. The webinar was intended for physicians, dietitians and other health professionals.