5 things you didn’t know about lactose

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Yes, you may be aware that lactose can be found in milk and dairy products. But why is lactose important for babies? Here are some facts on lactose that you may not be aware of...

Most of us know that lactose is one of the core nutrients found in milk, cheese and ice cream. And for some of us who have developed intolerance issues with lactose, we make sure to steer clear of milk and dairy products to avoid the unpleasant side effects. But do you know why is lactose important, especially in your baby’s development?

Why is lactose important for your baby? 

Here are some things you didn’t know about lactose – and why you should never remove lactose unnecessarily from your growing baby’s diet.

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Why is lactose important? Because it helps friendly bacteria thrive. | Image courtesy: stock image

 

1. Lactose is the primary carbohydrate found in breastmilk

Breast milk, with its all-natural and nutritious properties, is the preferred choice of mums for their growing babies. In fact, it is widely believed that the composition of breastmilk miraculously adjusts to the needs of the baby, and that it plays an important role in nurturing healthy and intelligent babies.

While the protective properties of protein, DHA and antibodies in breastmilk has been well documented, there is one component that often ends up being neglected and misunderstood: Lactose.

Lactose is the primary carbohydrate found in breastmilk. It is also the very reason that makes breastfed babies thrive as it provides the calories needed to fuel their growth. Lactose in breastmilk gives it a clean taste, rather than one that is “sweet”, which is more suitable for your baby’s palate.

2. Lactose helps to promote a healthy digestive system

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Want to know why is lactose important? A healthy digestive system starts with lactose…

Lactose does not get digested in our intestines. Instead, it plays an important role in the natural process that takes place in the gut.

Lactose is thought to help friendly bacteria thrive. The growth of friendly bacteria gives our stomach the defence needed to fight off undesirable organisms and promote a healthy digestive system.

3. Lactose is important for brain development

Galactose is a simple sugar that is produced during the breakdown of lactose. This sugar is essential in the production of galactolipids, which helps to support the development of a healthy brain and nerve tissues.

For babies, milk that contains lactose may be the only readily available source of galactose, which is involved in the development of the brain and nervous system. Removing lactose from milk is like stripping off the protective and powerful brain growth properties.

However, the effect of long term use of lactose-free formulas (which does not contain galactose) on babies’ brain development is yet to be fully studied.

4. Lactose helps build strong, healthy bones

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Why is lactose important? Doctors and child nutrition experts believe that lactose helps in calcium absorption for growth.

For a growing child, lactose plays an important role in helping the body absorb calcium and phosphorus – 2 crucial minerals which help to strengthen bone development.

This is essential during the growing years from birth to childhood. That is one of the reasons why breastfeeding is encouraged during your child’s early life, as breastmilk contains a substantial amount of lactose to carry out this important function.

And as you move on to the weaning stage, it is advisable to choose a suitable growing up milk that provides all the nutrients needed for your growing child.

5. Sweet replacements in lactose-free formulas

Parents often assume that their child is lactose intolerant when they see signs of tummy discomfort like bloating or slightly loose stools. So they end up asking themselves: why is lactose important? They then resort to giving their child a lactose-free formula.

Lactose-free formulas contain the same type of protein and fat as standard formulas, but the lactose component is replaced with corn syrup or table sugar.

The rationale for replacing lactose in the milk with corn syrup is to get it to attain the volume of carbohydrate (remember that lactose is a type of natural carbohydrate found in milk). Table sugar, also known as sucrose, is also often added to achieve a sweeter taste. This may shape the taste buds of babies to prefer sweet-tasting food made from artificial ingredients.

We hope that the 5 facts on lactose featured above will help you understand how lactose contributes to your baby’s growth and development in the early years. So, before you assume that your baby is lactose intolerant and start him on lactose-free formulas, it is best to consult your paediatrician for medical advice.

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