Nutrition for People with Lactose Intolerance

There are degrees of intolerance for lactose. Studies have shown that many true lactose intolerants can consume moderate amounts of milk and dairy products without symptoms, particularly if milk is part of a meal.

Milk and other dairy products are a major source of calcium. Many people with lactose intolerance may be able to tolerate yogurt with active cultures, which is very high in calcium, even though it is fairly high in lactose. Evidence shows that the bacterial cultures used in making yogurt produce some of the lactase enzyme required for proper digestion. Lactose-intolerant individuals should also be able to tolerate cheese, as most of the lactose is removed, along with the whey, when the cheese is made.

However, people with lactose intolerance who do not drink milk or eat diary products can still get the calcium they need from dark-green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, turnip or collard greens, and kale. Certain fish with soft, edible bones, such as herring, salmon, or sardines, are also good calcium sources.

Although milk and foods made from milk are the only natural sources, lactose is often added to processed foods, such as bread, cereal, and salad dressing. This is because dairy products can contribute to the required or desired flavor, color, and texture of many foods, in addition to increasing the nutritional value of processed foods. Some products that are labeled "nondairy," such as powdered coffee creamer and whipped toppings, may include ingredients that are derived from milk, and therefore contain lactose. It is important to carefully read food labels, looking not only for milk and lactose among the contents, but also for such terms as whey, curds, milk by-products, dry milk solids, and nonfat dry milk powder, all of which contain lactose. see also African Americans, Diet of; Africans, Diets of; Asians, Diet of; Carbohydrates.

Gita C. Gidwani


National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (2002). "Lactose Intolerance." NIH Publication No. 02-2751. Available from <>

processed food: food that has been cooked, milled, or otherwise manipulated to change its quality

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