What Is Lactose?
Lactose is a type of carbohydrate found in milk and milk products. It is sometimes referred to as milk-sugar. Lactose is broken down in the small intestines by the enzyme lactase.
Why Should I Follow a Lactose-Controlled Diet?
If you are lactose intolerant, your body is unable to digest large amounts of lactose. Consuming lactose may result in symptoms such as gas, bloating, cramping, and
Lactose-Controlled Diet Basics
The goal of this diet is to reduce any lactose-induced symptoms to a point where they are not bothersome. The amount of lactose that is tolerated will vary from person to person. You may find it helpful to keep a log of the foods that you eat and any symptoms that you have.
Common Sources of Lactose
Lactose is found in all dairy products. Some products contain more lactose than others. This carbohydrate can also be an ingredient in other types of food. To determine whether a food contains lactose, look for the following key words on the ingredient list:
- Dried milk
- Milk solids
- Powdered milk
The following foods generally contain no lactose:
- Lactose-free milk (eg, Lactaid)
- Broth-based soups
- Soy, almond, and rice milk
- Fish, beef, pork, lamb, and poultry prepared without dairy products
- Tofu and tofu products prepared without dairy products
- Bread, cereal, and crackers made without dairy products
Low Lactose Foods
The following foods contain only small amounts of lactose (2 grams or less per serving) and can often be tolerated in small amounts:
- Aged cheese (eg, Swiss, Cheddar, Parmesan)—1-2 ounces
- Cream cheese—2 tablespoons
- Cottage cheese—½ cup
- Orange sherbet—½ cup
Finding Your Level of Dairy Tolerance
Before cutting dairy products out completely, try cutting back. Milk is usually better tolerated in small amounts (4 ounces or less at a time) and when consumed with food. Cultured dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, are often well-tolerated because they contain bacteria that help break down the lactose. Aged cheeses, such as cheddar and Swiss, which contain very low amounts of lactose, are also usually well-tolerated.
Alternatives to Milk
Alternatives to regular milk include lactose-reduced and lactose-free milk (eg, Lactaid). Lactase enzyme tablets can also be added to milk to reduce the lactose content. Non-dairy alternatives include soy milk and rice milk.
Dairy products are an excellent source of
Suggestions on Eating a Lactose-controlled Diet
- Use a food log to pinpoint which foods are troublesome.
- Make gradual changes to your diet and note the effects.
- Try cutting down on portion sizes of lactose-containing foods.
- Consume lactose-containing foods with other foods.
- Read food labels for ingredients that may indicate the presence of lactose.
- Look for Kosher food products labeled “Pareve.” This means they contain no dairy.
- Try taking a lactase supplement before eating lactose-containing foods.
- Work with a registered dietitian to create a diet that works for you.
American Dietetic Association
American Gastroenterological Association
Canada's Food Guide
Dietitians of Canada
Duyff RL. American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. 3rd ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons; 2006.
General guidelines for managing lactose intolerance. University of Virginia Health System website. Available at: http://www.healthsystem.virginia.edu/internet/digestive-health/nutrition/lactosediet.cfm. Accessed April 9, 2007.
Lactose intolerance. American Gastroenterological Association website. Available at: http://www.gastro.org/wmspage.cfm?parm1=854. Accessed January 3, 2010.
Lactose intolerance. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/lactoseintolerance/. Accessed January 3, 2010.
Nutrition care manual. American Dietetic Association website. Available at: http://nutritioncaremanual.org/auth.cfm?p=%2Findex.cfm%3F. Accessed January 3, 2009.
Last reviewed January 2010 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © 2007 EBSCO Publishing All rights reserved.