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Lactose Intolerance - Treatment Overview

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Eat or drink other foods instead of milk and milk products. You can substitute soy milk and soy cheese for milk and milk products. You can also use nondairy creamers in your coffee. But keep in mind that nondairy creamers do not contain the same vitamins and minerals as milk, and they may contain more fat than milk contains.

Use lactase products. Lactase products are dietary supplements that help you digest lactose. There are many different brands of lactase products. Some are pills that you chew (such as LactAid) before you eat or drink milk products. Others are liquids that you can add to milk 24 hours before you drink it. Some foods have extra lactase added to them. Because products and brands are different, you may want to try a few to see which ones work best for you.

Eat yogurt with live cultures (not pasteurized). Some people who are lactose-intolerant can eat yogurt without having problems, especially yogurt that contains live cultures. This type of yogurt can help people digest lactose. All yogurts are made with live cultures, but many yogurts go through a process called "heat treatment" that kills the bacteria. If you want to be sure you are buying yogurt that still contains live cultures, check the label for the words "active yogurt cultures," "living yogurt cultures," or "contains active cultures."

If you have severe lactose intolerance, you may need to avoid lactose completely. Some medicines and many prepared foods contain lactose. Examples of prepared foods with lactose include breads and baked goods; breakfast cereals and instant breakfast drinks; instant potatoes and instant soups; pancake, cookie, and biscuit mixes; margarine and salad dressings; candies, milk chocolate, and other snacks. Be sure to read labels for lactose and for lactose's "hidden" names, such as:

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

One of the biggest concerns for people who are lactose-intolerant is making sure they get enough of the nutrients found in milk products, especially calcium. Calcium is especially important for women, because it keeps bones strong and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. There are many nondairy foods that contain calcium, including:

  • Broccoli, okra, kale, collards, and turnip greens.
  • Canned sardines, tuna, and salmon.
  • Calcium-fortified juices and cereals.
  • Calcium-fortified soy products such as soy milk, tofu, and soybeans.
  • Almonds.

To absorb calcium, your body needs vitamin D. Most people get enough vitamin D by being out in the sun for short periods of time each day. Vitamin D is also found in fortified orange juice, fortified soy milk, oily fish (such as salmon), egg yolks, and liver.

If you don't know whether you are getting enough calcium, vitamin D, and other important nutrients found in milk products such as magnesium, potassium, protein, and riboflavin, talk to your doctor. He or she may recommend that you take a calcium supplement or meet with a registered dietitian to make sure you are getting enough of certain vitamins and minerals.

You should also talk with your doctor if your symptoms do not go away with treatment, if they get worse, or if you have other symptoms, such as a fever, chills, or severe belly pain or vomiting.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: July 19, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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