Tips for Lactose Intolerance

Woman eating yogurt from small container.

If you are lactose intolerant, you have trouble digesting lactose. Lactose is a sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Many people are lactose intolerant. Undigested lactose won’t hurt you, but it can cause unpleasant symptoms. The good news is that you can get relief. To help reduce symptoms, look for ways to limit the amount of lactose you eat. You can also take a lactase supplement before you eat dairy products.

Finding your limit

People with lactose intolerance may think they can’t eat or drink any dairy products. This is often not true. Many people with lactose intolerance can eat or drink small amounts of dairy products without symptoms. To find your own limit, keep track of what you eat and drink. Write down when you have symptoms. Learn how much and what kinds of dairy products you can handle.

Tips to reduce symptoms

  • Choose low-lactose or lactose-free dairy products. These are widely available. They include products like milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream, among others.

  • Eat foods with active cultures, such as yogurt. Active cultures make lactose easier to digest.

  • Eat or drink dairy products with other foods to lessen symptoms.

  • Use fruit juice to replace some or all of the milk in recipes.

  • Take lactase enzyme tablets with dairy products to help prevent symptoms.

  • Avoid eating many high-lactose foods (such as milk, butter, and ice cream) at one time.

Eat other calcium-rich foods

If you eat less dairy, you may be getting less calcium. Ask your doctor about calcium supplements. Also, eat more dairy-free, calcium-rich foods, such as:

  • Broccoli, lettuce greens, kale, bok choy (Chinese cabbage), turnip greens

  • Fish with edible bones (canned salmon or sardines)

  • Alfalfa sprouts, soy sprouts

  • Tofu, soybeans, pinto beans, navy beans

  • Almonds, sesame seeds

  • Calcium-fortified orange juice, soy drink, rice drink

  • Oranges

Be aware that the calcium from these foods varies. It may not be as well absorbed by the body as calcium from dairy products. 

Try nondairy substitutes



Milk, cream

Soy drink, rice drink, nondairy creamer


Tofu (soy) cheese, some aged cheeses

Butter, margarine

Milk-free margarine, vegetable oil

Ice cream

Fruit sorbet, juice bars

Your body needs vitamin D to use calcium. You can get vitamin D by eating foods that have vitamin D. These include salmon, tuna, and eggs. Also, talk with your provider about taking a vitamin D supplement. Your vitamin D levels can be checked and followed by a blood test to be sure you are not lacking this nutrient.

Removing all dairy items from your diet is not often needed. And removing dairy also means taking out other healthy foods from your diet. This is why lactose-free dairy products are often a good choice. Your provider can also talk with you about taking calcium and vitamin D supplements.