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Dear Dietitian: Confessions of Digestive Distress

Dear Dietitian: Confessions of Digestive Distress

A while back, when I was visiting an aunt and uncle I don’t see very often, my uncle told me that he’d been struggling with constipation. My aunt cringed—Bill!—mortified by the turn in our conversation. I laughed.

As a registered dietitian, I don’t squirm when people divulge their digestive secrets. My professional experience has long since numbed me to impolite topics, even when discussed in polite company. Perhaps my perception shift started when I had a summer job working as a nurse’s aide. At age 19, I learned to nonchalantly ask patients about their bowel movements, as if that were normal conversation.

So when my daughter’s 25-year-old coach pulled me aside and whispered that she had to give up dairy because of lactose intolerance, I understood her embarrassment. Face it: the symptoms of lactose intolerance—gas, bloating and diarrhea—aren’t exactly socially acceptable topics of discussion.


But as a registered dietitian it pains me when people ditch dairy. I know they think that they have to give up the great taste and good nutrition that milk, cheese and yogurt provide. But studies (and my professional experience) show that there are proven ways to manage this digestive difficulty. Even for those who are severely lactose intolerant.

Here are some easy tips:

  • Drink smaller amounts of milk at mealtimes, as other foods slow down digestion, giving the body more time to handle lactose.
  • Choose aged cheeses, such as cheddar, Swiss, and Gouda. The aging process used in the production of these cheeses makes them naturally low in lactose.
  • Try dipping into a cup of creamy yogurt. The active cultures it contains break down lactose.
  • Pour a tall glass of cold, lactose-free milk—which is real milk, just without the lactose.

And what would you say if I told you that even people who are lactose intolerant can (and should) fall in love with dairy again?

Please share your questions, strategies and stories about lactose intolerance in the comments section below. I’ll be writing a follow-up article to answer some of your questions, and to share what I’ve learned from years of helping people manage digestion problems so they can enjoy food and better health.

Isabel Maples, M.Ed., R.D. is a registered dietitian in the Washington, D.C. area. She helps make food fun again by offering practical tips so people can eat healthier and enjoy their food choices, no matter what their lifestyle.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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