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Lactose intolerance: The biggest cause of bloating

Lactose Intolerance is extremely high in India. It is considered to be the biggest cause of bloating in India. The digestive issues caused by lactose intolerance can be very discomforting. 

Lactose intolerance occurs when the body has difficulty digesting lactose, a natural sugar found in dairy products. It affects a significant portion of the population, including many individuals in India.

In India, where dairy products are commonly consumed as part of the diet, lactose intolerance poses a considerable concern for those experiencing digestive discomfort. Understanding lactose intolerance and its connection to gastrointestinal problems can help individuals identify whether their symptoms are a result of this condition or potentially indicative of a more chronic condition like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

What is lactose intolerance?

Lactose also known as milk sugar is the sugar that is present in milk. The enzyme lactase is responsible for breaking down milk sugar effectively into simple sugars like glucose. 

However, when lactase production reduces in the body, the lactose is not digested and is present in the gut. The gut ferments the milk sugar causing gas, bloating and diarrhea. The fermentation releases gases like hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane. This gas build-up causes flatulence. The gas accumulation causes the abdomen to expand, resulting in bloating.

During the fermentation of the lactose caused by the gut bacteria, inflammation and irritation are also caused which causes abdominal pain. 

The presence of undigested lactose in the large intestine draws water into the colon, resulting in loose and watery stools. This increased water content in the stool can lead to frequent bowel movements and diarrhea.

Prevalence of lactose intolerance in India

In India, where dairy-based foods are an integral part of the traditional diet, lactose intolerance affects a substantial portion of the population. Studies suggest that around 70% of Indians may experience some degree of lactose intolerance, making it a prevalent concern in the country.

Diagnosing lactose intolerance

To determine if lactose intolerance is the underlying cause of digestive distress, medical professionals employ various diagnostic methods. These may include lactose intolerance tests, such as the lactose tolerance test or hydrogen breath test, which measure the body’s ability to digest lactose effectively.

By understanding lactose intolerance and its prevalence in India, individuals can begin to unravel the potential reasons behind their digestive troubles.

Foods that have lactose

Here are some common sources of lactose:

  1. Milk and dairy products: Milk is the primary source of lactose, and it is essential to recognize that all types of milk, including cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and sheep’s milk, contain lactose. 
  2. Processed and packaged foods: Lactose can often be found in processed and packaged foods, including baked goods, biscuits, cakes, and desserts. These products may contain milk solids, whey, or other milk-derived ingredients, making them potential sources of lactose.
  3. Condensed and evaporated milk: Condensed and evaporated milk are commonly used in cooking and baking. However, it is important to note that these concentrated forms of milk still contain lactose and can trigger symptoms in individuals with lactose intolerance.
  4. Hidden sources of lactose: Lactose can be present in unexpected food items, including certain medications, protein powders, and processed meats. It is crucial to read food labels carefully and be aware of ingredients that might indicate the presence of lactose, such as whey, milk solids, dry milk, or lactose itself.

The Indian diet traditionally includes milk, ghee (clarified butter), paneer (cottage cheese), and various milk-based sweets and desserts. These dairy-based foods often contain high levels of lactose, making them problematic for individuals with lactose intolerance.

Foods to be added to the diet

With a high prevalence of lactose intolerance in India, it becomes crucial to navigate the traditional Indian foods which are full of lactose.

Fortunately, there are various alternatives to lactose-filled food items that can be incorporated into a lactose-free diet. Here are some options:

  1. Plant-based milk: Plant-based milk alternatives such as almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, and oat milk are excellent substitutes for cow’s milk. These non-dairy milk options are widely available and can be used in cooking, baking, or enjoyed on their own. One can also replace milk with buttermilk on some occasions as buttermilk is good for digestion and is packed with probiotics.
  2. Lactose-free dairy products: Many grocery stores now offer lactose-free versions of dairy products, including lactose-free milk, yogurt, and cheese. These products are treated with lactase enzymes to break down the lactose, making them suitable for individuals with lactose intolerance.
  3. Calcium-rich foods: Since dairy products are a primary source of calcium, it is essential to find alternative calcium-rich foods. Dark leafy greens like spinach and kale, tofu, almonds, sesame seeds, and fortified plant-based milk are excellent sources of calcium that can be incorporated into a lactose-free diet.
  4. Probiotic-rich foods: Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and non-dairy yogurt made from coconut milk or soy can provide beneficial probiotics for gut health. These foods can help maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria and aid in digestion.
  5. Additionally, Indian cuisine is abundant in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, lentils, legumes, spices, and grains. These wholesome and nutritious ingredients form the backbone of a lactose-free diet, providing essential nutrients, fiber, and flavour. By focusing on these lactose-free components, individuals with lactose intolerance can still savor the vibrant flavours and textures of Indian cuisine.

Conclusion

In conclusion, lactose intolerance is a common condition that affects a significant portion of the population, including many individuals in India. Understanding the symptoms and causes of lactose intolerance is essential for individuals experiencing digestive disorders, as it can help differentiate between lactose intolerance and other conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). The digestive disorders associated with lactose intolerance, such as bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and gas, can significantly impact one’s quality of life.

Adapting the Indian diet to accommodate lactose intolerance may require some adjustments and exploration of alternative ingredients. With mindful food choices and an understanding of lactose-free alternatives, individuals can embrace the richness of Indian cuisine while keeping their digestive health in check.

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