If you’re lactose intolerant, it means that your body can’t digest lactose, which is the sugar in milk or dairy products. Symptoms can include gas, bloating, cramps and diarrhea. These can happen after you eat or drink foods and beverages that have lactose.
Usually, this happens because your body doesn’t produce enough lactase, an enzyme made in your small intestine that breaks down lactose.
There isn’t a cure for lactose intolerance and no known way to make your body produce more lactase. But you can manage it if you limit your consumption of dairy products, eat lactose-reduced food, or take an over-the-counter lactase supplement.
Visit your doctor to make sure you have lactose intolerance before deciding how to manage it. Symptoms are similar to other digestive problems, including inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
The gas, bloating and cramps of lactose intolerance are no fun, but they’re not dangerous. Most people can manage their symptoms by changing their diet and limiting the amount of lactose they consume. Some people do better by cutting lactose out of their diet altogether.
Your body may be able to handle some lactose without symptoms. Experiment to find out the types and amounts of products with lactose you can eat and drink.
Some high-lactose foods to watch out for:
- Milk and heavy cream
- Condensed and evaporated milk
- Ice cream
- Cottage cheese
- Ricotta cheese
- Sour cream
- Cheese spreads
Some milk substitutes you could try:
- Soy milk -- it’s high in protein, potassium and antioxidants
- Rice beverages
- Lactose-free milk -- it’s high in calcium and protein and contains many other vitamins, such as A, B, and K, zinc, potassium and magnesium
- Almond milk
- Coconut milk
Learning how to manage your symptoms through diet is key, but it can be a bit tricky.
When you have a meal, try having a small amount of milk or other dairy product along with it. Sometimes lactose can be tolerated more easily when eaten with other foods.
Try a lactose-free diet for 2 weeks. After 2 weeks, add foods with lactose back into your diet gradually and watch your results. This can give you a clearer idea of what and how much of certain foods and beverages you can consume without problems.
Talk to your doctor about taking a dietary supplement that contains lactase.
Try a liquid lactase replacement. These are over-the-counter drops that you add to milk.
Watch for Hidden Lactose
Always read labels. Many foods contain lactose, including snack foods, bakery products, candy, dry mixes, dried vegetables and infant formulas.
Many medicines also contain lactose, which is used as a filler, especially in white tablets. Many birth control pills and medications used to treat gas and stomach acid contain lactose. Your doctor can let you know if any prescription medications you take contain lactose.
Get Enough Calcium
If you limit milk and other dairy products, you may not get enough calcium and vitamin D. Talk to your doctor about taking calcium supplements with vitamin D and eating calcium-rich foods, such as leafy greens, broccoli, and some seafood like salmon.