Please note, this page is printable by selecting the normal print options on your computer.
What is lactose Intolerance?
Lactose is the sugar which is found in milk and most milk containing products. Lactose intolerance occurs when your body cannot digest and absorb this sugar allowing it to pass into your large bowel causing symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating and flatulence (wind). Following lactose free or a low lactose diet may help to relieve these symptoms. You should check the ingredients of foods and drinks to check they don’t contain lactose.
Words to look out for are:-
Milk – whole/full fat, semi-skimmed/half fat, skimmed/low fat (fresh or long life)
Evaporated and condensed milk
Dried milk powders
Milk solids and non-fat milk solids
Whey, whey solids, whey syrup sweetener, hydrolysed whey sugar, hydrolysed whey protein
Butter, margarine, ghee, butter milk, butter fat, milk fat or animal fat
Cheese and cheese powder
Sauces and dessert made from milk e.g. white sauce, custard
Note: Casein is a protein derived from milk, but it does not contain lactose. It should therefore be safe to have if you are lactose intolerant. Food containing casein may have an allergy warning on the label stating ‘This product contains milk’. If this food does not contain lactose it can be included in your diet.
Lactose can be used in some medicines such as tablets; liquids, cough medicines, vitamin and mineral supplements.
Low Lactose Diet
Milk substitutes can be used to replace milk in drinks, for use on cereals and in cooking and for sauces and other dishes. Milk substitutes for babies (under one year) may be available on prescription from your doctor.
Low lactose cow’s milk – Some people may find that they can tolerate low lactose cow’s milk such as Lactofree® which contains less than 0.05% lactose and can be found in supermarkets as fresh or UHT milk.
Soya milk* can be used as an alternative to dairy. Soya milk is not suitable for babies under 6 months of age.
Coconut milk* can be used an alternative to dairy, it can be useful in various cooking and baking recipes.
Rice milk* can be used as an alternative to dairy. It is good for drinking, putting on cereals and can be used in cooking. However, it is not suitable for children under the age of 5 years.
Oat milk*, such as Oatly® is an alternative to dairy. It can be drunk or put on cereals or used in cooking.
Almond milk* – can be used as an alternative to dairy. It is good for drinking, putting on cereals and can be used in cooking.
Hemp milk* – can be used as an alternative to dairy. It is good for drinking, putting on cereals.
*Opt for brands that are fortified with calcium.
Many individuals with lactose intolerance can still tolerate small amounts of cheese. Hard cheeses such as Cheddar or Parmesan are very low in lactose and many people find they can eat these without any problems. However, if you find that after eating cheese your symptoms are worse, then it is best to avoid it in your diet. You could try to reintroduce cheese into your diet after several weeks to see if your symptoms return.
Some people find that they can tolerate yoghurt even though it contains lactose. You may find that live yoghurts are best tolerated as the natural bacteria may help to digest the lactose in yoghurt. However, if you find that after eating yoghurt your symptoms are worse, then it is best to avoid it in your diet. You could try to reintroduce yoghurt into your diet after several weeks and see if your symptoms return.
Milk and milk products are a valuable source of calcium in our diets. If you are avoiding dairy products, try to ensure you purchase suitable alternatives such as soya or rice milk that is fortified with calcium. If this is not possible, speak with you doctor or dietitian to see whether a calcium supplement is appropriate.