Cancer treatments may cause injury to the intestine which causes lactose intolerance. If you are having abdominal cramps, bloating, gas and diarrhea after you drink milk or eat dairy foods, you may have lactose intolerance. In most patients, symptoms will go away once the intestine has healed.
Lactose may be an ingredient in several processed foods. Check the ingredients list on all food labels. You may not find lactose listed as an ingredient on the food label, however the following ingredients may mean that the food contains lactose: butter, cheese, cream, dried milk, milk solids, powdered milk and whey. The following food additives are lactose free and can be used: lactate, lactic acid, casein, lactalbumin, caseinate and lactylate.
Some people with lactose intolerance may be able to eat small amounts of dairy foods. If you are able to eat some dairy, include it with a non-dairy food. This helps slow digestion and avoid side-effects. For example, if you are going to drink a small glass of milk, eat a healthy sandwich along with it. Choose higher fat dairy foods like whole milk. The fat will help slow down digestion. Foods like hard cheeses and yogurt containing active cultures may be easier to digest than other dairy foods.
Eat a variety of non-dairy foods rich in calcium like shrimp, broccoli, beans, some tofu, kale, dried beans, almonds, shrimp, canned fish with bones, sesame seeds or lactose-free milks. Consume foods and beverages that are fortified with calcium. Another way to include more calcium in your diet is to drink nutrition supplements appropriate for lactose intolerance like Ensure. You may benefit from taking an enzyme supplement, like Lactaid, before eating dairy. These supplements help you digest the lactose sugar in dairy.
These suggestions are not meant to replace talking to your doctor and registered dietitian. For more information regarding lactose intolerance, schedule an appointment with the Registered Dietitian at the UW Carbone Cancer Center by contacting Cancer Connect by calling (608) 265-1700.