Lactose Intolerance & Seniors: Dairy Still on the Menu

Lactose intolerance affects an estimated 12% of Americans. Are your senior loved ones among them?

You say you’ve heard of lactose intolerance but aren’t really sure what it means? We’ll fill in the blanks.

First, it’s important to understand the difference between an allergy and intolerance to a particular food so that we are not unintentionally restricting our senior loved ones’ diets.

Food Allergy vs. Intolerance

An allergy elicits an immune response with specific symptoms including anaphylaxis with respiratory distress, skin reactions and gastrointestinal symptoms. The treatment for an allergy is complete elimination of the food from your senior’s diet. A true milk allergy (actual allergy is to the protein casein) often appears in infancy and usually resolves by age three. An intolerance is a non-immune response that results in gastrointestinal disturbances after a particular food such as dairy (in this case lactose) is eaten. Often symptoms occur when the amount of lactose eaten is more than the body can handle at one time.

Did you know that each person with lactose intolerance can eat different amounts of dairy products in their diet and be free of symptoms? It is not all or nothing with lactose intolerance. Some people who are lactose intolerant have a reduced amount of the enzyme lactase which means that the lactose in foods is not digested completely leading to symptoms for some but not all.

Your senor can continue to eat some dairy in the diet even with lactose intolerance as long as it is managed. By including some dairy in your senior’s diet instead of eliminating it all, your senior will be able to receive the beneficial nutrients in dairy that they may be missing.

Lactose Intolerance: Common Symptoms

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Bowel movements that are bulky or watery

The problem with lactose intolerance is that people will often cut out all dairy sources from their diet leading, to potential nutritional deficiencies. The nutrients in dairy foods such as calcium, potassium and vitamin D are important for your senior’s health. Eating some dairy can improve bone health, reduce cardiovascular disease, and help lower blood pressure.

The recommendations for adults over 51 years is the equivalent of three cups of milk a day. Avoiding dairy because of lactose intolerance can potentially cause seniors to be at nutritional risk.

Lactose Intolerance: Managing Seniors’ Intake of Dairy Foods

  1. Reduce the portion of milk served from 8 to 4 ounces at a time.
  2. Select other sources of dairy and include items such as yogurt, cheese and ice cream every day.
  3. Include modified versions of typical dairy foods, such as low lactose or lactose free milk, lactose free ice cream, lactose free dairy products (including yogurt) now coming to your grocery.
  4. Use lactase pills or drops that are available at the drugstore immediately before your senior consumes dairy products to help digest the lactose.
  5. Go slow with adding some dairy products back to your senior’s diet to give the intestines time to adapt to the lactose. Start with ¼ to ½ cup of milk increasing slowly over the next three weeks.
  6. Drink dairy with the meal or add to other food items such as soup or casseroles to help slow its absorption and digestion.
  7. Try foods with active or live cultures, such as Greek yogurt, as these foods have their own lactase to help digest the dairy.
  8. Try aged cheeses, which have a minimal amount of lactose naturally.
  9. Check with your doctor about your lactose intolerance symptoms.

Your senior should have a chance to fall in love with dairy again and get all the necessary nutrients he or she needs to stay healthy!

We would love to hear how you add dairy to your senior loved one’s meals!

2 thoughts on “Lactose Intolerance & Seniors: Dairy Still on the Menu”

    • Carmen, you can find several lactose free milk products online including Amazon. You may want to find a particular brand you like and use a grocery store locator to see if it is available in your location. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find. Thanks!

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