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Thirty minutes have passed since you ate a bowl of ice cream, and now your stomach is cramping and gassy. You feel like you might have diarrhea. Does this sound like you? Or, you had milk, mashed potatoes, or even candy almost 2 hours ago and have these symptoms. Does that sound like you? If either does, you could have lactose intolerance.

Lactose is the main sugar in milk and most other dairy products. Your small intestine makes the enzyme lactase to help you digest that sugar. When you're lactose intolerant, you don't make enough lactase to digest lactose well.

You can't cure lactose intolerance, but if you change what and how you eat, you may cut or even get rid of your symptoms.

Ease Your Symptoms

Millions of Americans have symptoms of lactose intolerance: 

  • Bloating
  • Cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Painful gas
  • Nausea

You can use trial and error to find out what foods cause symptoms, and in what amount. Or, you may want to see your doctor for a diagnosis. You may be sensitive to small amounts of foods that have lactose, or you may only have symptoms if you eat a lot of lactose foods. Your symptoms may be severe or mild. Lactose intolerance is different for everyone.

Find the Culprits (Hint: It might not just be dairy.)

Milk and dairy products are the best-known lactose foods, but there are many others. Some nondairy products have a protein called casein, which can have traces of lactose. To avoid symptoms from lactose intolerance, read food labels carefully. When shopping or cooking, look for these ingredients that have lactose: 

  • Curds
  • Dry milk solids
  • Milk
  • Milk byproducts
  • Dry milk powder
  • Whey

If you are highly sensitive to lactose, you may need to avoid foods such as: 

  • Baked goods
  • Bread, baking, and pancake mixes
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Certain types of candy, such as milk chocolate
  • Instant foods (breakfast drink mixes, mashed potatoes, soups, and meal replacement drinks)
  • Margarine
  • Nondairy creamers (liquid and powdered)
  • Nondairy whipped topping
  • Processed meats (bacon, hot dogs, sausage, and lunch meats)
  • Protein and meal replacement bars
  • Salad dressing
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