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Lactose-Controlled Diet

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Nov 5, 2023.

What is a lactose-controlled diet?

A lactose-controlled diet includes foods that contain either small amounts of lactose (low lactose) or no lactose at all (lactose free). Lactose is a sugar found in dairy foods, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. You may need to follow this diet if you have gas, bloating, cramping, or diarrhea after you eat these foods. These symptoms occur when your body does not produce enough lactase. Lactase is the enzyme that helps your body digest lactose. This condition is called lactose intolerance. You may be able to follow a low-lactose diet if you are able to eat some dairy foods. If you cannot tolerate any dairy foods, you will need to follow a lactose-free diet.

How much lactose can I have?

Work with your dietitian to find the amount of lactose you can have each day. You may be able to find this amount by trying small amounts of lactose at a time.

  • Try a food or drink that contains a low amount of lactose, such as reduced-lactose milk.
  • Eat or drink dairy foods that are easier to digest, such as yogurt and buttermilk.
  • Try only a small amount of dairy at a time, such as ¼ cup of milk or ½ ounce of cheese.
  • Only eat or drink 1 dairy food each day, and then slowly increase the amount you eat each day.
  • Only eat or drink 1 dairy food at a meal.
  • Have dairy foods or drinks with a meal or snack instead of eating or drinking them alone.
  • Try taking the lactase enzyme in pill or liquid form before you eat or drink dairy foods. This enzyme may help to prevent symptoms when you eat food with lactose.

Which foods should I limit or avoid?

Limit or avoid milk (regular, condensed, powdered), yogurt, cheese, ice cream, and other dairy foods. Always read the ingredient labels before you buy any packaged foods. Limit or avoid foods that contain milk, milk solids, butter, buttermilk, cream, and whey. Even foods like margarine, nondairy creamer, baked goods, and salad dressings may contain some lactose. Instant soup or potatoes, beverage mixes, and pancake or cake mixes may also contain some lactose.

Which foods can I include?

  • Lactose-free foods:
    • Lactose-free, almond, rice, or soy milk
    • Soy yogurt or soy cheese
    • Almond milk cheese
    • Soy-based sour cream
    • Foods that contain casein, lactate, lactic acid, and lactalbumin (these come from milk, but do not contain lactose)
  • Low-lactose foods:
    • Reduced-lactose milk
    • Aged cheese, such as Swiss, cheddar, or parmesan
    • Cream cheese
    • Cottage or ricotta cheese
    • Nondairy creamers
    • Nondairy whipped topping

What other guidelines should I follow?

  • Use nondairy foods as substitutes for dairy foods in recipes. Replace 1 cup of whole milk with ½ cup soy or rice milk and ½ cup water. Replace regular yogurt or cheese with soy yogurt or cheese.
  • Your body needs calcium for strong bones and teeth and other important functions. Get the calcium you need from nondairy foods, such as lactose-free milk. It contains as much calcium as regular milk. Calcium is found in vegetables, such as turnip greens, collards, kale, and broccoli. It is also found in sardines, canned salmon, shellfish, almonds, and dried beans. Many foods and drinks have added calcium, such as tofu, orange juice, and soy milk. You can also take calcium as a supplement. Ask your dietitian for more information about how to get enough calcium.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your symptoms get worse.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare provider to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.