As a registered dietitian, a common misconception I hear from people with lactose intolerance is that they must avoid dairy foods altogether. The truth is, most people who are lactose intolerant can still enjoy many nutrient-rich dairy foods. It’s all about your approach. Try these tips to stop avoiding and start adding more milk, yogurt and cheese to your diet.
Discuss with your Doctor
Only a doctor can diagnose lactose intolerance. If you self-diagnose and omit dairy from your diet you may deprive yourself of the critical vitamins and minerals dairy foods provide. As a result, you could inadvertently put yourself at risk for certain diseases, such as high blood pressure, stroke, osteoporosis, obesity, diabetes and some cancers. Dairy foods provide calcium, potassium, vitamin D and other essential nutrients that may lower your risk. Your doctor can order a simple hydrogen breath test that will measure the amount of hydrogen gas in your breath, which increases when you have undigested lactose in your system.
Reintroduce Dairy the Right Way
- Include natural cheeses in your diet such as Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Gouda and Parmesan. Most of the lactose is removed when these cheeses are made.
- Choose yogurts with live, active cultures that help to break down lactose.
- Introduce small amounts of milk or milk products to help reduce symptoms.
- Try chocolate milk. For some, it may be easier to digest than white milk.
- Try lactose-free foods, such as lactose-free milk and lactose-free cottage cheese. Lactose-free milk is real milk without the lactose, providing the same nutrition as regular milk.
Avoid Jumping to Alternatives
While some milk-alternative beverages provide plant-based protein, they are fortified and do not offer the same package of healthy nutrients — calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin and niacin — found in milk and other dairy foods. One 8-ounce glass of almond beverage only provides 1 gram of protein while real dairy milk provides 8 grams of high-quality protein per 8-ounce serving.
Laura Marbury, MS, RDN, LD