Some of you may have noticed the Valentine’s Day desserts and chocolates already on the shelves at stores. For those who have a lactose intolerance, this can mean frustration.

Lactose is a sugar found in milk. When someone has a lactose intolerance, their body does not produce enough lactase enzymes to digest the lactose. This can cause bloating, gas, stomach pains, cramps, vomiting, loose stools and diarrhea. Symptoms can show up between 30 minutes and two hours after eating or drinking dairy products.

People tend to develop a lactose intolerance in their teen and adult years, but it can be present in children. It typically runs in families. Although there is no cure for this, you can substitute cheese and milk with soy or coconut, rice or almond milk. Some people are able to still eat yogurt, and Swiss and cheddar cheese, as they have fewer amounts of lactose. The dietary supplement Lactase also helps your body digest lactose. The biggest concern is making sure people who are lactose intolerant still get a sufficient amount of calcium.

Other non-dairy foods that have calcium are:

  • Almonds
  • Canned tuna and salmon
  • Calcium-fortified cereal, juice and soy products
  • Broccoli, kale, okra, turnip and collards

If you are having problems with dairy products, talk with your physician. They may send you to an allergist to be tested for milk and milk casein allergies (different from lactose intolerance), or they may order a lactose tolerance test, which will be done at a lab.  If you know your tolerance level, you can still enjoy certain holiday sweets in moderation.

Seventy percent of the world cannot tolerate dairy, so you are in the majority if you cannot produce lactase. It is those who can ingest dairy that are the minority.