Lactose Intolerance

What is lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance results from not being able to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk. This is due to the absence of lactase, the digestive enzyme that breaks down lactose. Lactose intolerance is more common in adulthood and adolescence than childhood.

Brown cow in a field looking at camera.

People with lactose intolerance may feel uncomfortable 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming milk or dairy products. Common symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, gas, nausea, and diarrhea, though many people are able to tolerate small amounts of lactose without having any symptoms.

Lactose intolerance is different than an allergy to casein, the protein in cow’s milk. A casein allergy causes an immune system response, which can be life-threatening.

Hidden sources of lactose

  • Butter substitutes like margarine or popcorn butter flavoring
  • Baked goods, caramel candies, milk chocolate, nougat
  • Lunch meat, sausages, hot dogs, frozen dinner entrées
  • Cheeses, yogurts, creams, sherbets

Good substitutions for lactose

  • Milk substitutes: plant-based milks (e.g. soymilk, almond milk, and oat milk)
  • Lactose-free products, such as lactose-free milk
  • Dark chocolate and hard cheeses (parmesan, pecorino)

Lactose intolerance does not have to impair your ability to enjoy a wide variety of foods! Use lactose-free products and enjoy naturally occurring lactose-free items like vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.

Did you Know?

Lactose intolerance can contribute to a calcium deficiency. Eat more of the following lactose-free foods to increase the calcium content of your diet:

  • Kale, collard greens, mustard greens
  • Canned salmon
  • Calcium-fortified orange juice
  • Soybeans and tofu