People who are lactose intolerant are unable to digest the milk sugar lactose. In some cases, just a few sips of milk can prompt negative side effects like nausea or severe abdominal cramping. Lactose-free milk enables people who are lactose intolerant to enjoy the taste and health benefits of milk without experiencing symptoms.
Individuals who are lactose intolerant lack the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the sugar lactose, which is found in dairy products. Fortunately, lactose-intolerant individuals have a range of lactose-free options available to choose from that are nearly identical to the real thing.
Lactose-free milk is just one of many lactose-free dairy options. Consumers can also find things like lactose-free cottage cheese and ice creams. There are also dietary supplements such as Lactaid, which contain the enzyme lactase, thereby enabling the consumption of a range of dairy products. Yogurt and hard cheeses tend to have lower levels of lactose than regular milk in the first place, so often people can eat them without opting for an alternative or using a supplement. Soy products are another viable alternative.
Most lactose free-milk products are identical to their regular counterparts. The only difference is that the lactase enzyme has been added for the purpose of breaking down the lactose into the simpler sugars of galactose and glucose. With the lactose already broken down, those who are lactose deficient don't have to worry about experiencing symptoms. Soy products are made from soybeans rather than milk.
Some lactose-free products taste sweeter than their counterparts because the simpler sugars are more readily recognized by the tongue as being sweet. The more complex sugar lactose does not register quite as sweet. Also, because the simpler sugars are more sensitive to temperature variations than lactose, you should be especially careful to store lactose-free milk below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
The milk and dairy case isn't the only place you'll find lactose. Many seemingly innocuous products can also be problematic for lactose-intolerant individuals. Processed foods, for instance, are often made using milk ingredients. Baked goods, salad dressings, protein powders, whipped toppings and instant potatoes and soups are a few examples. To be on the safe side, read the ingredient labels. If you see milk, lactose, whey, curds, milk by-products, dry milk solids or non-fat dry milk powder, then you know the product contains lactose.