Foods to avoid if you are lactose intolerant

Published February 22, 2015

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Lactose intolerance is a condition where people have an inability to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products. When these types of foods or drinks are consumed, lactose intolerant people often experience digestive symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and gas.1

Those who are lactose intolerant produce insufficient levels of lactase, the enzyme needed to breakdown lactose into absorbable components in the small intestine. Undigested lactose then passes to the colon, part of the large intestine, where it’s broken down by bacteria, creating fluid and gas in the process.1 It’s estimated that up to 5% of Caucasians and 75% of non-Caucasians living in Australia are lactose intolerant.

Many people with lactose intolerance can handle small amounts of lactose, however they should be wary of the following foods:

  • Cow’s milk and milk products – Lactose is found in milk and milk products such as cheese, ice-cream, custard, cream, buttermilk and whey. Some lactose intolerant people can tolerate around 240mL of milk per day and yoghurt is often well tolerated.2
  • Low-fat and non-fat milks should be avoided as they travel quickly through the bowel and tend to cause symptoms in lactose-intolerant people. Foods containing fats travel at a slower pace through the small intestine, which allows lactase more time to break down lactose.2 Additionally, many low fat products contain skim-milk powder, which contains higher levels of lactose.2
  • Goat’s milk and milk products – As with cow’s milk, goat’s milk contains lactose, however lactose intolerant people may be able to consume small amounts.3
  • Biscuits and cakes – Milk or milk solids can be added to biscuits and cakes.2
  • Processed breakfast cereals – There could be hidden lactose in some breakfast cereals.2
  • Cheese sauce2
  • Cream soups2
  • Milk chocolate2 – Very dark chocolate usually won’t contain lactose but check the label for milk, milk solids or skim milk powder.
  • Pancakes and pikelets2
  • Scrambled eggs2
  • Lasagne, quiche and frittatas – These foods may be made using milk based sauces.3
  • Muesli bars2 – Look out for yoghurt-covered muesli bars or those with hidden milk ingredients.
  • Some breads and margarines2 – Check for milk-based ingredients.
  • Fruit smoothies4 – May contain milk, yoghurt or whey protein.
  • Some powdered chocolate drinks4
  • Protein powders and bars1 – Always check the label for potential sources of lactose such as whey, milk by-products or milk solids.
  • Some salad dressings1
  • Processed meats such as bacon, sausages, hot dogs and lunch meats – May contain small amounts of lactose.1

Foods to eat if you’re lactose intolerant

People with lactose intolerance can enjoy a vast amount of other foods including fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, eggs and whole grains. Milk, yoghurt and ice-cream made from soy, rice, almond, oat or coconut are good substitutes for dairy products.

Hard and matured cheeses such as cheddar, Edam, Swiss, Mozzarella, brie and feta contain no lactose so may be eaten freely, while fresh cheeses such as ricotta and cottage cheese are low in lactose and are usually well tolerated.

Some people may find eating lactose containing products in combination with other foods or spreading them out throughout the day can reduce the likelihood of symptoms.2 In addition, taking a ‘lactase’ supplement before eating dairy foods may assist in the breakdown of lactose and help keep symptoms at bay.

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