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5 Smart Ways to Enjoy Dairy if Lactose is a Concern

By Dayle Hayes, MS, RD

Last week, I attended an Alexandria, Virginia, conference on New Directions in Lactose Intolerance. The expert presentations were based on guidelines released by a February 2010 National Institutes of Health panel about digesting lactose – the natural sugar found in milk. The speakers stressed three key facts:

  1. All that rumbles is not lactose intolerance. The number of people who think they have to give up dairy foods is much larger than people who actually have lactose intolerance. The US rates of adult lactose intolerance are about 7 percent for Caucasians, 9 percent for Hispanics, and 20 percent for African Americans.
  2. Giving up dairy deliciousness can have unintended consequences. Low-fat dairy foods, an important investment in long-term health, promote strong bones, normal blood pressure, and a healthy weight.
  3. There are dozens of simple, tasty ways for everyone, even those with lactose intolerance, to enjoy nutrient-rich dairy foods. Here are five of them.

Pair milk with a meal or a snack.
Research suggests that even people with lactose intolerance or maldigestion can enjoy the amount of lactose in 8-ounces of milk with no - or minor - symptoms. The solid foods in a meal slow digestion down and give the body more time to breakdown the lactose. For many, this eliminates or reduces any symptoms or discomfort from drinking milk.

Start low and go slow.
Many people self-diagnose or perceive their symptoms as lactose intolerance when dairy isn’t the problem. Discuss digestive concerns with your doctor - and check out how your body handles smaller amounts of milk (start with ¼ cup) at a time. You may discover that milk wasn’t the problem at all - or find out how much you can tolerate at a time.

Try lactose-free milk and other dairy foods.
Enjoy a refreshing glass of milk with the lactose-free products available in the dairy case. The good news is that these products contain all the key nutrients found in any milk, including protein, calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and many others. Lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose, is also sold in pill and drop forms.

Get some “culture” with your dairy.
Some dairy foods are made with “friendly” bacteria that help digest lactose in your intestine. Fermented dairy foods made with these cultures include regular yogurts and drinkable yogurts (read label to make sure it says live, active cultures), cultured buttermilk, and traditional drinks like kefir (popular in Europe and the Middle East).

Shred it with some hard cheese.
When milk is made into cheese, most of the lactose is removed. Aged cheeses are naturally low in lactose, so older really is wiser in this case! Enjoy small servings (1 to 1½ oz.) of Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, and provolone cheese as a snack - or in dishes such as pasta entrées, Mexican food, sandwiches, and salads.

For more information about lactose intolerance, visit the National Dairy Council web site at

For more fun, easy tips on healthy living, go to

Dayle HayesDayle Hayes, MS, RD
Author, Speaker, and Nutrition Therapist

Dayle Hayes is a registered dietitian committed to innovative, delicious nutrition solutions for busy families. As a consultant to Billings Clinic, she specializes in positive nutrition tips, eating disorders, and sports nutrition. Dayle graduated from U. Mass-Boston and received a Masters of Science in Community Health Education from U. Mass-Amherst.
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