How to Combat Lactose Intolerance: The Best Alternatives to Dairy - AFPA (2023)

Have you ever felt bloated, gassy, or even nauseous after eating a bowl of mac and cheese or ice cream? If so, you might be one of the millions of Americans that are afflicted with a case of slight to life-affecting lactose intolerance.

People who have sensitivity to milk and other dairy products do not have an issue with the dairy itself, but find issue in digesting lactose, the main sugar that is found in milk, due to the absence of an enzyme naturally produced by the small intestine, known as lactase.

Without an abundant source of lactase while digesting food, it can be difficult or impossible to break down dairy products, which can lead to painful symptoms that many try to avoid.

Lactose Intolerance is a Worldwide Health Issue

Plaguing more than 200 million in the United States, the prevalence of lactose intolerance appears to increase with age. As humans age, the importance for our body to produce lactase decreases. This is because we no longer depend on our mother’s milk, which is much-needed for early childhood development of muscles, brain tissues, and bones.

Not only are the elderly disproportionately affected, but different geographic populations are also affected by lactose intolerance at different rates, with almost all of Eastern Asian adults being reported to suffer from digestive issues relating to dairy, and less than five percent of all Northern Europeans facing issues, likely due to the areas long-term dependence on unfermented dairy products.

While lactose intolerance is generally a mild digestive issue for most of the people afflicted, it can greatly affect those with severe intolerances.

How to Know if You Have a Lactose Intolerance

For the 65% of Americans affected by lactose intolerance, symptoms can appear anywhere from immediately after eating dairy products to three hours later, when digestion has begun.

Some people may even feel the effects of lactose intolerance days after eating the problem food.

More minor symptoms of lactose intolerance include abdominal bloating and abdominal distension, flatulence, and indigestion, and they can range to more inconvenient and painful symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Most immediate reactions occur in those with worse intolerance, as these individuals are completely lacking in any of the enzyme needed to break down these materials. Immediate reactions are almost always more dangerous and can greatly affect those with the intolerance, not only physically, but on the psychological level, having to worry about their reactions to foods in public locations or before significant events.

How to Combat Lactose Intolerance

With so many Americans being affected by lactose intolerance, and absolutely no one willing to give up their favorite cheeses and desserts, there are several different options that you can look at how to combat lactose intolerance.

For those who simply cannot live without drinking milk, eating ice cream, or chowing down on a big block of cheddar, the most simple and straightforward solution to combat lactose intolerance is taking a lactase supplement, like the over-the-counter drug, Lactaid.

Over the Counter Medication

Lactaid, and other comparable drug-store products, contain a small amount of lactase, the enzyme your small intestine is missing. Taken before eating a slice of pizza, this lactase will remain in the stomach and small intestine to help break down the lactose, to a certain extent.

While lactase supplements are a fantastic tool for those wild mild lactose intolerance, they will not be effective in combating more severe lactose intolerance or for meals that are dairy-heavy. Lactaid, and other lactase supplements, are only a temporary relief, as they do not help your body produce more lactase permanently. If lactose supplements do not help, there are several other methods on how to combat lactose intolerance.

Fermented Milk Products

An alternative to traditional milk products fermented milk product instead, such as kefir, which is made from inoculating cow milk with kefir grains. Kefir has been used throughout the world during the 1800s, and has not fallen off in popularity. While kefir is not an exact substitute for milk, the kefir is similar in taste and appearance to a thin yogurt, and can be used as a breakfast replacement, in smoothies, as a substitute for milk in foods, and drank in the same way that milk can.

The process of fermenting the cow milk helps to break down the lactose that is present, making it easier to digest. Not only is kefir high in thiamin, B12, folate, and vitamin K, it has a unique, tangy taste that many people enjoy. If the thought of drinking fermented milk intimidates you a bit, you’re not alone.

Alternative Dairy

An alternative to traditional cow’s milk can be as simple as trying the milk of another animal. With varieties of mammals like goats, sheep, and buffalo all producing similar milk to dairy cows, there’s a vast world of unique milks with less or no lactose in them at all.

Numerous dairy products, such as buffalo mozzarella and goat cheese, already take advantage of alternative milk sources in their production. While the taste may not be identical to cow’s milk, it’s a useful substitute in many dishes, in order to prevent gastrointestinal distress.


Growing Trends in Dairy Production

For those who cannot stomach any dairy at all, the best tool to combat lactose intolerance, may be completely removing it from your diet. Thanks to an uptick in both lactose intolerance and an overall vegan diet, many companies have begun to offer dairy-free alternatives to their customers.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, the average American drinks approximately 18 gallons of milk per year, down from the 30 gallons per person annually that were common 40 years ago. With the United States enjoying almost half of the dairy products over the last half-century, companies have needed to adjust their business models in order to compete.

Elmhurst Dairy, originally opened in 1925 and one of New York City’s largest dairy companies, has completely ceased milk production due to a decline in sales. They’re opening a brand new facility specifically designed for the production of nut-based, non-dairy milks.

For a substitution of dairy milk, there is almond milk, cashew milk, and coconut milk, just to name a few. These can be used in baking, cooking, for drinking, and in your morning cup of coffee.

Dairy Free Cheeses

As an alternative to cheeses, many people recommend using nutritional yeast in lieu of parmesan cheese, or vegan cheeses like Daiya, which are made from a tapioca starch and flavored to taste like cheeses.

There are also cashew nut cheeses, like Nuts for Cheese, which boast a flavor profile just like the cheeses they are recreating by allowing the cheeses to air-dry and age after the culturing process, the same way a traditional cheese would, to develop the delicious sharpness many seek out with cheese.

Supermarket Suggestions

There are several supermarket-available solutions on how to combat lactose intolerance. The largest interest in dairy-free options seem to come from ice creams and desserts. If you head to any major supermarket, you’re likely to find non-dairy version of many of your favorite ice creams.

In the last few years, Ben and Jerry’s, Breyers, and Halo Top have all come out with their own dairy-free ice creams for their lactose intolerant and vegan friends. Offering flavors like Oreo, Cherry Garcia, and Birthday Cake, your dessert doesn’t have to be boring or plain just because it doesn’t contain dairy. There are also more pre-made products than ever, like Enjoy Life dairy-free chocolate chip cookies, Amy’s vegan Rice Macaroni and Cheese, and Namaste frozen pasta dishes.

Calcium Options

While many people are plagued with lactose intolerance, it is still important to reach calcium goals in order to maintain muscle growth and brain health. Among other vegetables, collard greens are one of the best sources of calcium, with over 268 milligrams in one cooked cup. Another dairy-free favorite, almonds, are another top source of calcium, along with important dietary fiber and magnesium to aid in digestion. broccoli and kale are great source of calcium, with over 180 milligrams per cup of broccoli and about half of that value for the same amount of kale.

A Dairy-Free Future

If after using lactase supplements, trying fermented and alternate-source milk, or eliminating all dairy products entirely, and you are still experiencing digestive issues, it may be important to consult with a doctor to evaluate your medical history. Some medical conditions, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Crohn’s Disease, can mimic the symptoms of lactose intolerance, and they may have other triggers that need to be identified by a medical professional. For pregnant women, it is advised that you speak to your doctor before any change in diet during your pregnancy.

No matter the severity of your lactose intolerance, there are many options that can lead you to enjoy the food you’re eating and reach nutritional goals without having to suffer the pain and discomfort of digestion problems.

As the market for lactose-free products continues to grow, there will be far more dairy-free products that are available than even five years ago. To combat against lactose intolerance, we must grow the market for dairy-free alternatives and evaluate alternative options for ingestion and calcium absorption in order to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.


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What is a good milk substitute for lactose intolerance? ›

Read on for a few great recommendations.
  • Soy Milk. Soy milk is made with either soybeans or soy protein isolate, and often contains thickeners and vegetable oils to improve taste and consistency. ...
  • Almond Milk. ...
  • Coconut Milk. ...
  • Oat Milk. ...
  • Rice Milk. ...
  • Cashew Milk. ...
  • Macadamia Milk. ...
  • Hemp Milk.
Jan 17, 2018

How can I reverse lactose intolerance naturally? ›

Slowly Reintroduce Dairy.

For this reason, we recommend starting with two tablespoons of yoghurt, since it contains plenty of digestive enzymes and less lactose, allowing your gut to digest it easily. Studies have also shown that the bacterial strains in yoghurt actually break down lactose for food.

Is there a way to counteract lactose intolerance? ›

You can take lactase tablets before you eat or drink milk products. You can also add lactase drops to milk before you drink it. The lactase breaks down the lactose in foods and drinks, lowering your chances of having lactose intolerance symptoms. Check with your doctor before using lactase products.

Can you reverse lactose intolerance by eating dairy? ›

The best way to figure out which dairy products work for you and your digestive system is simply to try them yourself. By taking the time to introduce lactose fermenting bacteria through probiotics and high quality yogurt, you may find your lactose intolerance symptoms decreasing over time.

What is the best milk alternative for gut health? ›

The best type of plant-based milk for gut health, according to a gastroenterologist. In a recent Instagram video, Dr. Bulsiewicz revealed that soy milk is hands-down his drink of choice (in the dairy section, at least) for several reasons.

What is healthiest non dairy milk? ›

The 9 Healthiest Non-Dairy Milk Options To Try
  • Oat Milk. Arguably one of the most popular plant-based milk is oat milk. ...
  • Almond Milk. The first nut milk on our list is almond milk! ...
  • Cashew Milk. ...
  • Soy Milk. ...
  • Pea Milk. ...
  • Hemp Milk. ...
  • Hazelnut Milk. ...
  • Rice Milk.
Jan 10, 2023

Is it bad to take Lactaid pills everyday? ›

How often should LACTAID® Dietary Supplements be used? LACTAID® Dietary Supplements should be used every time you eat foods containing dairy. They can be taken every day, with every meal, and should be taken with your first bite or sip of dairy. Take as directed on package.

Do Lactaid pills work? ›

But lactase supplements like Lactaid may help. They're taken before eating or drinking lactose, and can help improve symptoms of lactose intolerance. If you have GI symptoms after taking lactase supplements, talk to your healthcare provider. Lactase supplements may not work for everyone.

What is the best probiotic to take for lactose intolerance? ›

The NHS acknowledges that certain types of probiotics like Lactobacillus acidophilus could help with the reduction of lactose intolerance symptoms. They recommend trying non-yogurt probiotics that contain L. acidophilus 11.

What settles your stomach after eating lactose? ›

Lactase supplements, lactose-free products, and probiotics may help manage symptoms. However, if someone is in pain, they may need to take OTC medications for pain relief, gas, diarrhea, or bloating.

What are the 4 types of lactose intolerance? ›

The main types of lactase deficiency are outlined below.
  • Primary lactase deficiency. Primary lactase deficiency is the most common cause of lactose intolerance worldwide. ...
  • Secondary lactase deficiency. ...
  • Congenital lactase deficiency. ...
  • Developmental lactase deficiency.
May 29, 2023

Why does milk make me sick but I'm not lactose intolerant? ›

Most cow's milk contains two types of casein proteins: A1 and A2. Recently, small studies have suggested that some people who think they're lactose intolerant actually aren't. They're simply unable to digest the A1 protein, and as a result, they experience symptoms that mimic lactose intolerance.

Why does ice cream give me gas but not milk? ›

The reason you may experience gas and bloating after eating ice cream is likely because of lactose, the natural sugar found in milk and milk-based products. According to the Cleveland Clinic, some people carry low levels of lactase, an enzyme that's found in the small intestine that helps digest lactose.

What are the first signs of being lactose intolerant? ›

What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?
  • bloating.
  • diarrhea.
  • gas.
  • nausea.
  • pain in your abdomen.
  • stomach “growling” or rumbling sounds.
  • vomiting.

Do eggs have lactose? ›

Eggs come from birds, such as hens, ducks, or quails, which are not mammals and do not produce milk. Eggs are high in protein and include many essential vitamins and minerals. They do not contain lactose, so are safe for people with lactose intolerance to eat unless they also have an egg allergy.

What kind of milk is easiest on the stomach? ›

The Best Milks for Your Belly
  • Lactose-Free Milk. Bambu Productions / The Image Bank / Getty Images. ...
  • Almond Milk. Laurie Castelli / Cultura / Getty Images. ...
  • Hemp Milk. Westend61 / Getty Images. ...
  • Coconut Milk. daltoZen / Moment / Getty Images. ...
  • Kefir. esemelwe / E+ / Getty Images.
Dec 1, 2022

What dairy products have no lactose? ›

Hard cheeses, such as cheddar and Parmesan, as well as matured cheeses such as brie, camembert and feta contain virtually no lactose. Yoghurt contains good bacteria, which helps break down the lactose. Low-lactose and lactose-free milks and yoghurts are also available.

Which milk has the least lactose? ›

ProductLactose content (grams)
Lactaid milk (lactose-reduced)3
Goat's milk11 to 12
Acidophilus, skim11
Yogurt, low fat, 1 cup4 to 17
18 more rows

What milk is dairy and lactose-free? ›

Dairy-free products are made from plants, such as nuts or grains. Neither lactose-free products nor dairy-free products contain lactose. For example: Lactose-free products include LACTAID® milk and LACTAID® ice cream. Dairy-free products include soy milk, almond milk, and coconut milk.


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