Is lactose really bad for you?

Lactose, a healthier sugar
Is lactose really bad for you?
Image by RitaE from Pixabay
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Milk has long been associated with nutrition and good health. That's why milk is one of the most consumed beverages worldwide for thousands of years. Milk contains various important nutrients that can offer a range of health benefits among all age groups. Although milk may be a good choice for some, but others can't digest it because of lactose intolerance.

Recalling one of the most memorable childhood moments - running behind the ice cream van and yelling "I scream! I scream!" on the hot summer days. But if your child cannot digest milk or milk-based products, you would feel as his childhood has been robbed. Unwillingly, you would stop bringing milk and milk-based products to your home. Trends reveal that consumers globally have realized that traditional dairy is unsuitable for their consumption due to the high lactose levels in the dairy products, thus paving the way for the future of lactose-free dairy products. Due to this increasing demand, the global plant-based milk market is projected to expand at a promising pace on the back of a shift in consumption patterns and increased inclination among the major worldwide population toward organic, sustainable, and plant-based foods. However, completely banning milk and milk products due to lactose is not a good option. Before banning it completely, it is important to know why lactose is important for you and your family and what all benefits it can offer.

Image by Дарья Яковлева from Pixabay


Before we jump on to understand the benefits of lactose for you and your family, it is important to know what lactose is. Lactose is a disaccharide sugar found in milk and products made from milk, including cheese and ice cream. Lactose is composed of two simple sugars – Glucose and Galactose. Due to the presence of these sugars, lactose is considered a healthy sugar. Despite that still, some people find it difficult to digest, and they develop a condition known as lactose intolerance.

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is a condition when the person consuming milk cannot digest the lactose that is present in milk and milk products due to the lack of lactase. This happens because the person cannot produce enough of an enzyme (lactase) to digest milk sugar (lactose). Like other enzymes, lactase also helps break the breakdown of lactose into simple sugars that are glucose and galactose. The inability to produce adequate lactase leads to the fermentation of lactose in the intestine, which further lead to undesirable side effects such as bloating and diarrhea on milk products' consumption. In the food and beverage industry, lactase is commonly utilized to catalyze the hydrolysis of lactose to produce lactose-reduced or lactose-free products such as milk, cream, yogurt, cheese, and others. Lactose intolerance may be classified into three types based on the factors causing the lactase deficiency.

Primary Lactose Intolerance - This is a prevalent type of lactose intolerance and can be genetically determined. Most people are born with enough lactase. Babies need lactase to digest their mother's milk. The amount of lactase a person makes may decrease over time. In primary lactose intolerance, lactase production decreases gradually over time. Thereby a person with this condition can't digest milk products.

Secondary Lactose Intolerance - This type of lactose intolerance occurs when your small intestine stops producing enough lactase during/after an illness, injury, or surgery involving your small intestine. However, the treatment of underlying illness may restore the lactase levels, and this condition may be recovered over a period of time.

Congenital Lactose Intolerance - This is a rare type of lactose intolerance that is inherited. A defective gene can be transmitted from generation to generation in a pattern of inheritance called autosomal recessive. In this type, the babies are born with lactose intolerance caused by a complete absence of lactase activity.

Lactose is good for you

Milk is a rich source of calcium and vitamin D; therefore, it offers up to two-thirds of dietary calcium critical for good bone health, blood clotting, healthy nerve impulses, and heart rhythm. These vitamins are essential for our body. Its requirement cannot be fulfilled by consuming alternate vitamins like dark leafy vegetables or other vitamin supplements. If people with lactose intolerance start skipping milk and opting for other options for these essential vitamins, then there is a chance that after a certain age, they would be at greater risk of developing medical conditions like osteoporosis.

It is true that lactose intolerance is a concern for the substantial population but do you think stopping drinking milk or consuming milk products is the only solution for this? Also, there are cases where this condition is often misdiagnosed by people and can be cured in some scenarios. Lactose is an essential component of our daily diet as it aids the absorption of vitamins and minerals like calcium and phosphorus. Apart from this, there are several other benefits of lactose that are given below;

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  • Healthier sugar - With many people aware of this condition, lactose is often looked at as a negative component of milk, but many health benefits are associated with it. Lactose contains sugars like galactose that are essential in the production of galactolipids. The galactolipids are vital for healthy brain development, cell communication, and a healthy immune system. Galactose is also known as 'brain sugar'.

  • Low-calorie sweetener - Lactose is a natural low-calorie sweetener. According to reports, it does not impart any detrimental effects on the body, unlike other low-calorie artificial sweeteners. Lactose breaks down very slowly and burns only when the body needs it, resulting in less fat conversion than other sugars, studies suggest.

  • Serves as a prebiotic - Lactose is used as a nutrient by the intestinal microbiota if it is not digested in the small intestine. The bacteria produce their own lactase to digest lactose, resulting in short-chain fatty acids and gases. These fatty acids serve as a source of energy for the gut microbiota. The undigested lactose and other milk sugars also contribute to the growth of a health-positive genus of bacteria such as; Bifidobacterium bifidum; and Lactobacilli. Lactose also helps to increase resistance against intestinal infections among infants and children by maintaining healthy intestinal flora.

  • Low Glycemic Index - Studies suggest that lactose has less significant metabolic effects when compared to other sugars. The Glycemic Index number for lactose is 45, which is much lower than glucose (100). Because lactose has a much lower impact on blood sugar, it is considered a more beneficial sugar for people with diabetes.

Apart from the above-mentioned benefits, lactose possesses many other positive health benefits that demand more attention from consumer and research perspectives. As the research on lactose continues, the researchers will find it an interesting, healthy component that supports a healthy life!

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