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What is lactose intolerance?

Put simply, regular dairy doesn’t always agree with our digestive systems. Some people are unable to digest the natural carbohydrate found in milk, otherwise known as lactose. This can lead to feelings of discomfort or bloating after eating it.

Our small intestines naturally produce an enzyme called lactase which is responsible for breaking down dairy products. People with low lactase can usually digest milk products, but if your levels are too low, then this can lead to lactose tolerance and the unpleasant symptoms that come with it.

What is lactose?

Lactose is a natural sugar found in dairy products such as milk. The lactase enzyme in our gut breaks lactose down into two simple sugars; galactose and glucose. These two sugars are then comfortably absorbed by your small intestine.

What you need
to know?

If you suspect you might be lactose intolerant, you shouldn’t completely remove all dairy products from your diet, as these foods are rich sources of important nutrients such as calcium. Below are some of the dairy products that only contain small amounts, or no lactose at all.


Hard and mature cheeses, such as Swiss, cheddar, mozzarella, fetta, Edam and brie don’t contain any lactose. However, fresh cheese, such as ricotta and cottage cheese do contain very low amounts of lactose. These can still be tolerated by people with lactose intolerance as long as they eat them in small amounts


Most people who have lactose intolerance can drink small amounts of traditional milk without experiencing symptoms – usually around 240 ml per day. Full fat milk is better in this regard as the fat slows down how quickly the milk passes through your intestines, giving the enzymes longer to break down any lactose.

It’s important to note that everyone’s tolerance levels to milk are different, so this will depend on your individual lactase levels.


The lactose levels in yoghurt actually decrease slightly each day as the bacteria present use the lactose for energy. This means some people with lactose intolerance can eat small amounts of regular yoghurt.

What triggers lactose intolerance?

If you’re wondering how you might become lactose intolerant, there are a couple of possibilities. The most likely reason is genetics; meaning your body simply has less lactase than usual.
Other causes include:

Parasitic infection:
This can reduce your lactase levels temporarily.

Gastroenteritis (gastro):
This infectious disease can strip your intestines of lactase for a number of weeks.

Coeliac disease:
This can also damage your gut lining

Lactose intolerance can develop at any age, whether from your genetic makeup, or triggered by another disease, so it’s advisable to have any symptoms evaluated by your doctor.

Symptoms of
lactose intolerance

The most common symptoms of lactose intolerance include:
• Bloating
• Abdominal pain
• Diarrhoea
• Flatulence

These symptoms will usually begin about 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming dairy and will last until the lactose leaves your digestive system – up to 48 hours later. The severity of your symptoms will come down to how much dairy food you ate.

Managing lactose intolerance

Unfortunately, there is no treatment or cure to make the body produce more lactase. If your lactose intolerance was triggered by an underlying health issue, then treating this condition can in turn help your diet.

Otherwise, many people embrace a lactose-free diet to manage any discomfort. This is easier than you might think. Although, first it’s important to understand whether you have a dairy intolerance vs a lactose intolerance, as this will define what you can and can’t eat. Liddells has a range of lactose-free products made from real dairy that contain all the important nutrients you need.

That means you can enjoy the taste and health benefits of cow’s milk, without an irritated tummy. Choose from a range of lactose-free milk, cheese and yoghurts so you can still enjoy the foods you love, without lactose intolerance getting in the way.

To learn more about which lactose-rich foods to avoid, read our other article . You can find Liddells’ range of lactose-free products at Coles, Woolworths and selected independent stores.