Living With Lactose Intolerance: A Survival Guide
Lactose intolerance is very common, as are other allergies and intolerance related to milk and milk products. Some people probably don’t even know they have a milk sensitivity. Milk allergies can vary in degree; some people are severely allergic to the compounds in milk, whereas for others, milk just causes excess gas. Either way, if your body cannot process milk, this article will benefit you.
I developed lactose intolerance when I was about 16 years old. I would find myself sick to my stomach on a daily basis and couldn’t figure out why. Doctors and family members came up with different "explanations" ranging from irritable bowel syndrome, to spinal alignment, to too much sugar. I ended up throwing all those explanations out the door when I stopped eating milk and cereal for breakfast every day. That was it. A simple fix: stop ingesting milk.
Living With Lactose Intolerance
After discovering my sensitivity to milk products, I began to notice that milk was in practically everything. When checking the ingredients, look for any combination of the following: butter, milk, cheese, whey, yogurt, milk by-product, milk solids, lactic acid, sodium lactylate, etc. If you ever aren’t sure, look it up before you buy it.
The following is a list of some (shocking) foods and beverages that I found to contain milk products:
- Bread (with the exception of “cheap” < $1 loaves)
- Canned spaghetti sauce (Ragu, etc.)
- Spaghetti-Os, canned chili, etc., frequently need to be checked
- Pickles, olives, etc., often contain lactic acid
- Packaged sandwich meats (contain sodium lactylate). Get it cut fresh at a deli, as it won’t contain those lactose-based preservatives.
- Hot Dogs and sausages sometimes contain sodium lactylate as well
- “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” and other non-butter alternatives actually contain dairy products
- Chocolate chips
- Chicken strips, other battered foods, etc., usually contain dairy as they are deep-fried in dairy products
- SOBE drinks (pretty much anything that isn’t transparent contains milk)
- Canned/bottled coffee drinks
Foods that are surprisingly okay to consume:
- Mayonnaise (made from egg, not milk!); a good alternative to Ranch dressing
- Aged cheese (sharp cheddar, Swiss, etc., has all been aged long enough for the lactose compound to break down)
- Smart Balance or Earth Balance buttery spread (though margarines usually contain dairy product, these two brands are 100% diary-free)
- Chocolate syrup (it’s essentially 100% sugar with some flavor and coloring)
- Brownie mix is some combination of cocoa powder, sugar, and flour. No milk; you can buy it with milk in it, but it is very easy to find dairy-free.
- Boxed mac & cheese Yep. If you check the ingredients, it contains “less than 2% of the following” when milk is concerned. It’s not real cheese. Mix in rice milk instead of regular milk.
- Dark Chocolate The “good” stuff won’t contain any milk. Ghirardelli and Lindt have been faithful to me. Cheap “dark chocolate,” like Hershey’s, is actually just glorified milk chocolate.
Getting Through the Day, Dairy-Free
I am sure you can think of many things that don’t contain dairy. After a while, however, you may start to miss the dairy lifestyle. Here are some ways around it:
- Rice milk or almond milk with your cereal. I prefer these to soy milk, because they have less of a dense texture to them.
- Soy milk as a creamer in coffee. Soy milk is thicker than other non-dairy alternatives, and is similar in consistency to creamer. It also works well steamed for espresso.
- Starbucks and other large coffee chains will typically offer rice milk or soy milk as an alternative, though they may charge extra for this. Also, be sure to ask, because some of their pre-mixed drink formulas contain milk.
- Swiss cheese with mayo, mustard, fresh-cut meat, and dairy-free bread makes a great lunch.
- Mac & cheese from the box with rice milk and Smart Balance tastes just as great. Making from scratch? Use aged cheddar or Swiss.
- Pizza: Pillsbury Dough Mix (this is a small, inexpensive box of powdered mix), tomato sauce, and soy cheese is what I often use to make pizza. Be careful with pepperoni and other sliced meats because they may contain sodium lactylate. I have used aged cheddar, as well.
- Vanilla Rice Dream ice cream is very delicious topped with chocolate syrup.
- Brownies from a box. Typically, you just add egg and vegetable oil.
There are over-the-counter "treatments" available for lactose intolerance. LACTAID, or a generic alternative, makes supplements that contain the enzyme in charge of breaking down lactic acid. This enzyme is what you most likely lack with lactose intolerance. When you pop one of these with dinner, you can eat as much dairy as you want—although I would typically recommend taking two throughout the meal if you are indulging in a pizza or ice cream. Understand that LACTAID does not cure lactose intolerance; it simply gives you a temporary fix.
Consult Your Doctor
Talk to your doctor before taking these if lactose intolerance is a serious ailment to you. The lactose enzyme may not be the root cause of the problem in this case, and ingesting dairy may cause serious side effects.
Adjusting to the Dairy-Free Lifestyle
At first, the adjustment can be very hard and frustrating. After a while of looking and reading ingredients, you’ll get the hang of shopping and find that it is just as easy to get into a routine of buying dairy-free. Dairy-free alternatives, in some cases, can be very expensive. Conversely, dairy-free options can also sometimes be cheaper. Bread, for example, typically does not contain milk if it is very cheap. I don’t know why this is, but this is just what I have noticed.
Recognizing Your Limits
After a while, you will realize your limits. Lactose tolerance is very similar to alcohol tolerance in that every person has a varying degree to which they can handle before it adversely affects them. I have found that I can have a slice or two of pizza if it contains a variety of meat and veggie toppings. I have also found that I absolutely cannot handle any form of “recent” milk, such as milk itself, cottage cheese, or yogurt. Once you go dairy-free, you may decide to occasionally test the waters (unless your healthcare provider has determined you are severely allergic). Sometimes a handful of Doritos really isn’t that bad.