No, lactose intolerance cannot cause weight gain. But if you replace dairy products with foods high in carbohydrate, calorie and protein content, you will gain weight.
Lactose Intolerance and Weight Gain
Many people have this notion that this type of food intolerance can cause weight gain. They think that if you are lactose intolerant, you may be compelled to increase your food intake to replace the nutrients present in cow’s milk and dairy products, which you can only consume limited amounts of because of your lactose intolerance.
Foods rich in proteins, fats and carbohydrates – the same foods that build muscle mass and make you gain weight – are necessary to sustain your body functions, but they should be consumed in moderation. Otherwise, it will result in an imbalance that can result in your weight gain.
Other Conditions Lead to Weight Gain
If you have been working out but still unable to lose weight, it may be possible that you have other underlying conditions. These conditions include Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), diabetes, hypothyroidism, and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
Studies show that lactose intolerance can make IBS and Inflammatory Bowel Disorder (IBD) symptoms worse. This makes it more difficult for your digestive system to break down food for energy, resulting in constipation, bloating, stomach pain, gut inflammation and diarrhoea.
Your gut may also be sensitive to certain foods that can compromise your gut health and thus, promote the growth of harmful bacteria in your colon. When these harmful bacteria produce toxins, they can make your intestinal walls inflamed and your gut bloated, which eventually obstructs your digestion.
If you have been diagnosed with lactose intolerance and want to keep weight gain at bay, you need to know what types of food to eat and avoid, stick to a balanced diet and maintain an active, healthy lifestyle.
To help you minimise your chances of gaining weight, here are some diet and health management tips:
Minimise Your Dairy Consumption
More serious gut health problems like Crohn’s disease have autoimmune characteristics that can deteriorate the digestive tract when it’s infected. Unfortunately, severe damage to the digestive tract may lead to secondary lactose intolerance, as the small intestines lose their ability to produce lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose.
In terms of weight gain, people who have IBD such as Crohn’s disease and sensitivity to dairy may gain extra pounds due to persistent inflammation in their body. Some dairy products contain allergens, gluten, chemicals and hormones that can trigger an auto-immune response. When this happens, your intestines swell, which may disrupt the normal digestive function, resulting in stomach cramps, diarrhoea, nausea, and metabolic issues.
If you are lactose intolerant due to IBD, it is crucial that you avoid or minimise the amount of dairy you consume to reduce inflammation and maintain a normal weight.
Alternatively, if you can tolerate a glass of milk but wonder if it can make you fat, the answer depends on the milk’s contents. A recent study showed that the hormone estrone found in dairy products may increase body weight. Moreover, low-fat milk contains whey protein and estrone that may also promote weight gain.
We advise searching for dairy alternatives that contain a very small amount of lactose, such as aged cheeses, plain yoghurts, vegetables, healthy oils, and lactose-free products. And of course, watch your whey protein intake and read the product labels carefully.
Buy Lactose-Free Milk Alternatives
Milk products derived from soy, almond, coconut, macadamia and cashew are some of the best alternatives to cow’s milk. Besides the fact that they are lactose-free, they also contain fewer calories than regular milk. Consuming these lactose-free milk products won’t compromise your weight even if you consume a glass or two daily. Plus, they’re packed with vitamins and minerals that can contribute to your recommended daily nutrient intake.
These milk alternatives also contain healthy fats that can promote weight loss and reduce blood cholesterol levels. For instance, coconut milk is rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) which have been found effective in reducing weight and waistline amongst obese individuals. A 2018 study also showed that MCTs can help boost insulin sensitivity, which helps break down sugar and keeps your blood sugar levels low.
We recommend that you only buy alternative milk products that have added lactase in it and with little or no refined sugar to enhance your digestion.
Take a Dairy Allergy Test
Lactose intolerance should not be confused with a milk allergy. Some people mistake their dairy food sensitivities for lactose intolerance because both conditions often cause stomach cramps. But these are two different, unrelated health problems where allergic reactions to milk are characterised by hives, vomiting or anaphylaxis. Whereas, lactose intolerance is an enzyme deficiency that doesn’t trigger the immune system to respond to dairy intolerance, although it does cause discomfort when a person is unable to break down foods that contain lactose.
So, you can be lactose intolerant and not suffer from a milk allergy, or you can have both. If you aren’t sure of what’s causing your stomach discomfort after drinking a cup of milk, it’s best to undergo an allergy test to get a proper diagnosis. If you keep consuming milk products that you are unknowingly allergic to because you mistake it for lactose intolerance, it may lead to chronic inflammation that can make you gain up to 14kgs of body weight per year.
Eat Foods Rich in Prebiotics
When you ingest prebiotic fibres, certain types of gut bacteria break them down to produce short-chain fatty acids. These compounds can make you feel full and help fight infections in your body.
Based on research, eating 16grams of prebiotics per day can boost bacterial fermentation within your gut so you’ll feel full and experience less hunger. Another study also showed that fermented prebiotics in the gut can reduce inflammation. Other health benefits of prebiotic fibres include increased calcium absorption, beneficial metabolites, and gut barrier permeability. They also help fight harmful bacteria and minimise allergy risk.
If you want to get started with your prebiotic-rich diet, excellent sources include chicory root, asparagus, dandelion greens, bananas, raw Jerusalem artichoke, cooked garlic and onions, wheat bran, mushrooms, leeks, barley, apples, and flaxseed. However, consider looking for alternatives to the prebiotic foods that you are not allowed to eat if you have IBS or IBD.
Take Calcium and Vitamin D Supplements
New studies show that lower levels of calcium and Vitamin D may cause weight gain in men and women.
Researchers found out that in women, belly fat was linked to lower levels of Vitamin D. Whereas in men, Vitamin D deficiency was associated with abdominal and liver fat. So if your waistline got larger than before, have your Vitamin D levels checked and increase your Vitamin D intake by taking supplements.
Another deficiency that can lead to weight gain is calcium. Aside from osteoporosis, lower levels of calcium can increase your desire to eat more as your body tries to compensate for the deficiency.
Fortunately, getting additional calcium from supplements can help you lose weight, especially if you’re obese or overweight. According to a new study, obese women with calcium deficiency lost weight by up to 6kgs after taking 1200mgs of calcium and 10mcg of Vitamin D supplements daily for 15 weeks. The researchers concluded that increasing calcium intake can help control appetite in obese women and thus, reduce their calorie intake.
Need Our Help?
Book an appointment with an accredited dietitian or nutritionist by phone on (07) 3071-7405 between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday or send us an enquiry. Alternatively, find out how we can help you manage your lactose intolerance better.