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Diet for Lactose Intolerance

What foods contain lactose?

Lactose is found in dairy products such as:

  • Milk

  • Cheese

  • Yogurt

  • Ice cream

  • Sherbet

Items on a food label that contain lactose:

  • Milk

  • Milk solids

  • Skim milk powder

  • Cream

  • Buttermilk

  • Malted milk

  • Whey lactose

  • Curds

  • Margarine

Some foods that may have hidden sources of lactose:

  • Breads

  • Candy

  • Cookies

  • Cold cuts

  • Hot dogs

  • Bologna

  • Sauces and gravies

  • Dessert mixes

  • Cream soup

  • Frostings

  • Chocolate drink mixes

  • Salad dressing

Living with Lactose Intolerance

In the past, people who were lactose intolerant were told to stop taking dairy products. Today, health experts suggest minimizing dairy products. To determine if you can tolerate dairy, consider eliminating dairy for 2-4 weeks and reintroducing in small servings. That way you can still get enough calcium and other important nutrients.

Here are some tips for managing lactose in your diet:

  • Start slowly. Eliminate dairy products from your fdiet for 2-4 weeks and then try adding small amounts of milk or milk products and see how your body reacts. Start with goat- or sheep-based dairy. People often respond better to yogurt or kefir as well.

  • Have milk and milk products with other foods. You may find you have fewer symptoms if you take milk or milk products with your meals. Try eating cheese with crackers or having milk with cereal.

  • Eat dairy products with naturally lower levels of lactose. These include hard cheeses, yogurt and goat and sheep's milk products.

  • Look for lactose-free and lactose-reduced milk and milk products. These can be found at many food stores. They are the same as regular milk and milk products. But they have the lactase enzyme added to them. Also try almond or coconut milk. These do not contain any dairy and have greater nutrient density.

  • Ask about lactase products. Ask your health care provider if you should take a lactase pill or lactase drops when you eat or drink milk products.

  • If you have trouble finding dairy products that don’t cause symptoms, talk to your health care provider. He or she can suggest other foods to be sure you get enough calcium. You may need to take calcium supplements.Children with lactose intolerance should be seen by a health care provider. Dairy foods are a major source of calcium for bone growth and health. They also have other nutrients that children need for growth.

What foods may be used as a milk substitute?

Lactose-free and lactose-reduced milk is regular milk that has had the lactose removed or reduced. Most people with lactose intolerance can drink this type of milk. Ask your doctor or dietitian about this product.

Sources of Calcium for a Lactose Intolerant Diet

Calcium is needed for strong bones and teeth. If you are not using milk or milk products, you may not be getting enough calcium from your diet. Ask your doctor or dietitian for more information about your body's calcium needs.

The following are good sources of calcium:


All quantities provided per half cup cooked.

  • Tofu: 434mg

  • Black-eyed Peas: 106mg

  • White Beans: 63 mg


All quantities provided per cup and raw unless otherwise stated.

  • Bok Choi: 380mg (cooked)

  • Collard Greens: 268mg (cooked)

  • Spinach: 245mg

  • Turnip Greens: 197mg (cooked)

  • Mustard Greens: 165mg

  • Beet Greens: 164mg

  • Swiss Chard: 102mg

  • Kale: 101mg

  • Broccoli Rabe: 100mg per 2/3 cup

  • Edamame: 98mg

  • Okra: 82mg

  • Cabbage: 63mg

  • Brussels Sprouts: 56mg

  • Green Beans: 55mg

  • Summer Squash: 49mg

  • Broccoli: 43mg

  • Asparagus: 41mg

  • Celery: 41mg


  • Whole Dried Figs: 130mg per 5 fig serving

  • Oranges: 50-65mg per 1 medium sized orange

Nuts and Seeds

  • Chia Seeds: 300mg per 1.5oz

  • Almonds: 72mg per 1.0oz

  • Sesame Seeds: 51mg per tablespoon


  • Sardines: 350mg per 3.2oz can

  • Canned Salmon: 180mg per 3oz can


  • Seaweed: 126mg per cup (raw, expands when cooked)

  • Cinnamon: 52mg per 2tsp

Calcium sources reviewed by Joshua Nachman, MS, CNS, LDN.

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