Recipe Substitutions for Lactose Intolerance

Dairy trouble got you down? Don’t worry! You can still enjoy some of your favorite foods. Try these simple recipe swaps so you can eat the foods you love.

Milk Options

If a recipe calls for 1 cup of cow's milk, you can replace it with lactose-free cow's milk or rice or soy milk. Just remember: Rice milk is thinner and soy milk is thicker than cow's milk. So you may need to tweak the amount you use in cooking and baking.

Closest to milk. Lactose-free milk is treated with lactase to break down the lactose. It is the closest cousin to regular cow's milk in taste and offers the same nutrients, such as calcium.

Flavor changers. The most popular alternatives for drinking and cooking are almond, rice, and soy milk. Try them first to make sure you enjoy the taste, and keep in mind that the milk's flavor may affect the taste of what you're making. Here are some newer milk options:

  • Cashew
  • Hemp seed
  • Oat
  • Potato

No-Nos. Goat, sheep, and buffalo milk are not suitable, because they all contain lactose. However, some people might find goat's milk easier to digest than that from sheep or buffalo.

Cooking Tips. The safest bet, in both sweet and savory recipes, is to choose a light, plain, and unsweetened product.

  • In bread, cake, cookie, or sweet recipes, flavored or sweetened milks may also work.
  • When buttermilk is an ingredient, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup of plain milk substitute to make your own. Some store-bought cow's milk buttermilk, if made with active bacteria cultures, may be low in lactose.
  • When dry milk powder is an ingredient, use an equal amount of coconut, potato, rice, or soy milk powder instead.

Cream Substitutes

There are a few alternatives to heavy cream, light cream, or half-and-half that have similar mouth-feel and thickness to the real thing.

  • Coconut cream makes a good swap for half-and-half when you blend it with half soy milk. Another option: Create your own light cream by mixing 3/4 cup of a plain milk substitute with 1/4 cup of canola oil.
  • Coconut milk can replace evaporated milk or heavy cream in soups and stews. You can also make your own heavy cream with 1/2 cup plain milk substitute and 1/2 cup canola oil.
  • Dairy and lactose free half-and-half substitutes work well in many recipes.

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You may be able to use nut butters made from almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios, peanuts, or macadamias instead of dairy cream in some recipes. Make a nut cream by whisking 1 cup of water into 1/4 cup of nut butter.

Butter Substitutes

Fruit purees. In baked goods (other than cookies), you can substitute fruit purees like applesauce, prune, or banana for part or all of the butter. Usually ¾ cup of fruit puree replaces 1 cup of butter. Many chefs use this approach to lower fat and calories, and make muffins, brownies, and cakes healthier.

Dairy-free margarines or oils. You can also use dairy-free or soy margarine, coconut oil, shortening, and olive or canola oil for part or all of the butter.

Yogurt Substitutes

You may be able to tolerate some cow's milk yogurts, because they have very little lactose. Choose ones with live, active bacterial cultures for the least amount of lactose.

If you can't tolerate regular yogurt, try soy or coconut milk yogurts, soy sour cream, or unsweetened fruit puree.

Sour Cream Substitutes

Let soy based or lactose-free sour creams serve as subs in your favorite recipes. Pureed silken tofu and plain soy yogurt can also work well.

Cheese Substitutes

Aged cheeses such as cheddar, Colby, Parmesan, and Swiss have very little lactose, only about 0.1 gram per ounce. American cheese, cream cheese, and cottage cheese are also low in lactose.

You can use hemp, rice, reduced lactose, lactose-free, or soy cheese in recipes to replace cheese.

Ice Cream Substitutes

There is a wide variety of diary-free ice creams and frozen yogurts made from soy, rice, hemp, coconut, and lactose-free milks.

Sorbet, made from fruit, sugar, and water, is another option.

Sherbet is made with milk but only contains a small amount of lactose, about 4-6 grams per cup.

Chocolate Substitutes

Most dark chocolate is lactose-free and comes in a wide variety of shapes and sweetness levels. Check the label to be sure it doesn't contain any dairy ingredients.

Carob chips and rice milk chocolate are two options for chocolate made with cow's milk.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on May 02, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Cooking Light Best Ever Test Kitchen Secrets, Oxmoor House, 2004.

The NIH Consensus Development Conference on Lactose Intolerance and Health, 2010.

2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

Nicklas, T.A. NutToday, September/October 2009.

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