Soy and lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance means that the body is unable to – or has difficulty in – digesting lactose or ‘milk sugar’, which is found in cow’s milk, as well as in many other dairy products.

Unlike a food allergy, lactose intolerance does not involve the immune system.  Lactose intolerance results from a shortage of the enzyme lactase, which is normally produced by the cells that line the small intestine. Lactase breaks down lactose into glucose and galactose that can then be absorbed into the blood stream.

In cases of lactose intolerance, the body produces either no lactase or insufficient amounts. As a consequence, the lactose will be fermented by intestinal bacteria.  This gives rise to a number of complaints such as flatulence, gastrointestinal complaints and diarrhoea.

Approximately 70% of the world’s population suffers from lactose intolerance. Its prevalence is generally very low in young children and remains low into early adulthood.  The ability to tolerate certain amounts of lactose differs between individuals.  While some people can still consume certain amounts of dairy products without significant problems, the easiest way is to avoid intake of lactose by switching from dairy products in the diet to naturally lactose-free products.

Soy products represent an excellent alternative for those suffering from lactose intolerance or those who wish to reduce their lactose intake, since they are naturally lactose-free. Thanks to their nutritional profile soy foods offer lactose-intolerant people suitable alternatives while providing calcium and vitamin B, since most of the soy foods are enriched with these vitamins.

Other plant-based products can also be used in the diet of lactose-intolerant people thanks to their vegetable origin.

More information can be found in the EFSA opinion.