Many adults struggle with lactose intolerance and do their best to avoid dairy. There are a lot of misconceptions, however, about the biology behind it and which dairy products are the best and worst. I’ve compiled some basic information here to hopefully clear up the fundamentals:
What is lactose?
And why are some people intolerant?
Lactose is a type of sugar most commonly found in milk and other dairy products. In the body, lactose is usually broken down into two simple sugars — glucose and galactose — by an enzyme called lactase. People are lactose intolerant when their bodies don’t make enough lactase. Without lactase, the lactose can’t be properly digested and causes what I politely term “gastrointestinal distress” (a.k.a. gas and bloating). Lactose intolerance usually runs in families, but it can also happen out of the blue. Some people are more intolerant than others; it totally depends on how much lactase your body is able to make. People with a mild intolerance make enough lactase to digest most, but not all lactose, and people with a severe intolerance make little or no lactase at all. That’s why some people can have a little milk and be ok, but others have to avoid it completely.