Trust your gut, but rethink removing dairy from diet

A leading US lactose digestion expert says people who experience digestive problems should rethink limiting or cutting out dairy foods from their diet. Professor Dennis Savaiano is in Melbourne this week to present the keynote address at the Nutrition Society of Australia 2016 Annual Scientific Meeting. Having studied lactose digestion for over 30 years, he will shed light on misconceptions around lactose intolerance.

An increasing number of Australians report experiencing digestive problems such as bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. While these may be caused by any number of factors such as stress, medication, inadequate exercise and food intolerances, many believe dairy foods are the suspected culprits, leading them to cut out or limit dairy foods from their diets without consulting a health professional.

Currently, 9 out of 10 Australians are failing to meet the daily recommended intake from the milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives food group, and more than 50 per cent of Australians are not getting enough calcium in their diets. Limiting or excluding dairy foods from your daily diet may have a negative effect on your future health. Consuming adequate amounts of milk, cheese and yoghurt can protect us against a number of diseases but also provides us with valuable nutrients such as calcium for healthy bones and teeth, protein for maintaining lean muscle and iodine for optimal brain function.

Professor Savaiano says, “The good news is that people with digestive problems, including lactose intolerance, do not need to cut out dairy foods. In fact, by including dairy foods as part of their diet, many people are able to increase their tolerance.”

Professor Savaiano’s research has shown that people who have cut out dairy foods from their diet due to digestive problems and try a 21-day milk-drinking intervention, see an improvement in symptoms. Many go on to enjoy milk and other dairy foods such as cheese and yoghurt as part of their everyday meals and snacks. The intervention involves starting with half a cup of milk with a meal twice a day in week one, stepping this up to two-thirds of a cup in week two and then one cup during week three.

Even among those who are limiting their dairy intake, Professor Savaiano says, “There are ways to ‘do dairy differently’.” This may include spreading your intake of dairy over the day, having dairy foods with meals or having smaller amounts of dairy at a time, gradually building up your tolerance.

Even those diagnosed with lactose intolerance can still enjoy the health benefits of dairy foods. The Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest that up to 250ml of milk may be well tolerated if broken up throughout the day and consumed with other foods. Hard cheeses contain virtually no lactose and yoghurt contains good bacteria, which helps to digest lactose. Lactose-free milks are also a great alternative as they contain similar nutrients to regular milk.

Professor Terry Bolin, President and Founder of The Gut Foundation urges people to rethink cutting out or limiting dairy foods from their diet without consulting their health professional as they may miss out on important nutrients and health benefits associated with dairy foods.

The Gut Foundation website features information about lactose intolerance and provides tips on what people can do if they suspect dairy foods are causing them digestive problems. Visit for more information.