Eat fewer dairy products
People with lactose intolerance can reduce their signs and symptoms by eating fewer dairy products.
For many, dairy products are a convenient way to get vitamins and nutrients, such as calcium. Giving up dairy products doesn't mean you can't get enough calcium. Calcium is found in many other foods, such as:
- Calcium-fortified products, such as breads and juices
- Canned salmon
- Milk substitutes, such as soy milk and rice milk
- Pinto beans
If you forgo all dairy products, it's also important to make sure you get enough vitamin D. There aren't too many foods with significant amounts of vitamin D, but eggs, liver and yogurt contain vitamin D. Your body also makes vitamin D when exposed to the sun. But, this doesn't happen when you're wearing sunscreen, which is necessary for protecting your skin from skin cancer.
Ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian who can help you plan your meals. And, ask your doctor if you need to take calcium or vitamin D supplements.
Use caution if you choose to eat dairy products
It may not be necessary to completely avoid dairy foods. Most people with lactose intolerance can enjoy some milk products without symptoms. You may be able to tolerate low-fat milk products, such as skim milk, better than whole-milk products. It also may be possible to increase your tolerance to dairy products by gradually introducing them into your diet.
Ways to change your diet to minimize symptoms of lactose intolerance include:
- Choosing smaller servings of dairy. Sip small servings of milk — up to 4 ounces (118 milliliters) at a time. The smaller the serving, the less likely it is to cause gastrointestinal problems.
- Saving milk for mealtimes. Drink milk with other foods. This slows the digestive process and may lessen symptoms of lactose intolerance.
- Experimenting with an assortment of dairy products. Not all dairy products have the same amount of lactose. For example, hard cheeses, such as Swiss or cheddar, have small amounts of lactose and generally cause no symptoms. You may be able to tolerate cultured milk products, such as yogurt, because the bacteria used in the culturing process naturally produce the enzyme that breaks down lactose.
- Buying lactose-reduced or lactose-free products. You can find these products at most supermarkets in the refrigerated dairy section.
- Watching out for hidden lactose. Milk and lactose are often added to prepared foods, such as cereal, instant soups, salad dressings, nondairy creamers, processed meats and baking mixes. Check nutrition labels for milk and lactose in the ingredient list. Also look for other words that indicate lactose, such as whey, milk byproducts, fat-free dry milk powder and dry milk solids. Lactose is also used in medications. Tell your pharmacist if you have lactose intolerance.
- Using lactase enzyme tablets or drops. Over-the-counter tablets or drops containing the lactase enzyme (Dairy Ease, Lactaid, others) may help you digest dairy products. You can take tablets just before a meal or snack. Or the drops can be added to a carton of milk. Not everyone with lactose intolerance is helped by these products.