Living with Lactose Intolerance? Here are My Tricks to Enjoy Dairy Products

Registered Dietician

| 4 min read

Lactose intolerance is a digestive disorder where one is unable to properly break down lactose. Lactose is the natural sugar found in dairy products. If you suffer from painful gas, bloating, cramps, nausea or diarrhea within two hours of eating dairy products, you might be lactose intolerant. Its symptoms can be uncomfortable, but they are usually manageable with diet and lifestyle modifications.

A Common Condition

About 70 percent of the world’s population suffers from lactose intolerance to some degree. Trust me, I know because I am lactose intolerant. Long story short, the small intestines are not producing enough lactase, which is an enzyme needed to breakdown lactose.
The prevalence of lactose intolerance varies among different races and ethnic groups:
  • It is rare among those of Northern European ancestry, a region where dairy products have historically been a part of the diet throughout adulthood. Only 2 percent of people of Northern European ancestry develop lactose intolerance.
  • Among Hispanic people the prevalence of lactose intolerance is 50 to 80 percent.
  • Among black and certain Jewish populations, 60 to 80 percent are lactose intolerant
  • Almost 100 percent of Asians and American Indian adults are lactose intolerant to some degree

Don’t Forget Calcium

The first thing that most people worry about with lactose intolerance is not getting enough calcium or other vitamins. There are many calcium-rich non-dairy foods. Think dark leafy greens, soy, sesame seeds, flax seeds, broccoli, oranges and even papaya and add them to your diet; they are all calcium-rich foods. Don’t forget to include vitamin Vitamin D, which helps your body absorb and use calcium efficiently. You can also take a calcium supplement to help make sure you get the recommended amount of calcium needed daily.
Recommended Dietary Allowances for Calcium Age Male Female Pregnant Lactating 0–6 months* 200 mg 200 mg 7–12 months* 260 mg 260 mg 1–3 years 700 mg 700 mg 4–8 years 1,000 mg 1,000 mg 9–13 years 1,300 mg 1,300 mg 14–18 years 1,300 mg 1,300 mg 1,300 mg 1,300 mg 19–50 years 1,000 mg 1,000 mg 1,000 mg 1,000 mg 51–70 years 1,000 mg 1,200 mg 71+ years 1,200 mg 1,200 mg

Testing Dairy Foods

When you are lactose intolerant, you must listen to your body. Every situation is different and each person suffers to a different degree of lactose intolerance. Just because you are lactose intolerant does not mean that you have to cut out all dairy.
In general, cooking or heating dairy foods can help break down the dairy sugar and make it easier for you to digest. Some people are able to take a lactase enzyme supplement right before they eat these foods and consume them without any symptoms. Here are some other options:
  • Milk — Some people enjoy Lactaid milk, which is a lactose-free milk product. There are other alternatives, such as soy, rice, almond, hemp and coconut milk. I usually rotate amongst these for different flavor profiles. I try not to buy the sweetened or flavored versions, due to the extra and unnecessary sweetened calories.
  • Yogurt — Despite my lactose intolerance, I can handle yogurt fairly well. With Greek yogurts, I have very few symptoms and I enjoy the tangy taste and the fact there is more protein. Also, yogurts with active and live bacterial cultures seem to agree with lactose intolerant people more readily. So keep that in mind too when you are choosing a yogurt.
  • Ice Cream — Real ice cream and I do not get along, but I know others who are lactose intolerant but completely fine with ice cream. This is when I like to remind people to test themselves with certain foods because it is very much a case-by-case situation. You may be able to tolerate milk but not ice cream, or cheese but not yogurt. I am personally able to tolerate frozen yogurts better than ice cream.
  • Cheese — Who doesn’t love cheese? I know I do and thankfully, I can tolerate most kinds. Cheese has different amounts of lactose, depending on what kind you are eating. Once again, pay attention to your body. Usually aged cheeses, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, and natural cheeses contain less lactose. On the other hand, cheese spreads, cheese in a can and some processed cheeses are known to have more lactose.

Cream Cheese Substitute

If you don’t get along with cream cheese, here is a way that you can try to make your own:
To make a cream cheese substitute, drain plain yogurt or cultured sour cream over a piece of cheesecloth for several hours or even overnight. The result is a dense, thick product that makes a tangy spread or it can be used in baked goods. Some stores sell lactose-free cottage cheese. You can puree this type of cottage cheese to create a spread for bagels or to use as a substitute for cream cheese in baked goods, too.
Are you lactose intolerant? Or do you think that you might be? Listen to your body and figure it out. You will feel better in the long run.
What are some tricks you’ve learned to enjoy your favorite dairy products?
Photo Credit: Nick Piggot

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