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Diarrhea and Lactose Intolerance: When Dairy Is the Problem

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How Can I Control Lactose Intolerance Symptoms? continued...

You can control lactose intolerance symptoms by making changes in your diet, such as eliminating dairy products. However, you may find that you do not have to eliminate dairy entirely. For example, you may discover that some cheeses, like Swiss, cheddar, feta or goat cheeses, don’t bother you, while other ones cause symptoms. Or you may be able to have one glass of milk but not more.  

Other strategies for controlling lactose intolerance symptoms include:

  • Eating and drinking lactose-free milk and dairy products (available at most grocery stores) such as soy or rice milk and soy cheese
  • Eating a solid food with a dairy product (such as cereal with milk)
  • Taking a lactase enzyme (available as over-the-counter tablets or liquid at drug stores) when you eat dairy

Where Lactose May Be Hiding

Although milk is the food most associated with lactose intolerance, any dairy product may cause diarrhea and other symptoms. Lactose can also be found in:

  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Cream cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • Ice cream

But milk and dairy products are not the only offenders. In fact, lactose may also be found in foods you don’t expect, including:

  • Calcium-fortified breads
  • Cereals and baked goods
  • Powdered meal replacements
  • Instant potatoes, soups, and breakfast drinks
  • Pancake, biscuit, and cookie mixes
  • Margarine
  • Salad dressings
  • Products labeled as non-dairy, such as whipped toppings and creamers, which may include milk-derived ingredients

These foods also may trigger symptoms of loose stool, bloating, gas, and stomach cramps. That’s especially true if you are highly sensitive to lactose or if you eat large amounts of these foods.

If you are lactose intolerant, the best way to avoid symptoms is by reading food labels. Steer clear of products listed with the following ingredients:

  • Whey
  • Curds
  • Milk by-products
  • Nonfat dry milk powder
  • Dry milk solids

Lactose also is found in more than 20% of prescription drugs and in some over-the-counter medicines. Birth control pills may contain lactose. Even medicines that lactose-intolerant people may take for relief, such as tablets to reduce stomach acid and gas, can contain lactose. Ask your pharmacist or health care provider if a medication contains lactose before taking it.

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