How can I maintain a balanced diet?

Milk and dairy products are a major source of calcium, an essential nutrient for the growth and repair of bones and teeth throughout life. Calcium is also essential for blood to clot normally, muscles and nerves to function properly, and the heart to beat normally.

People who are lactose-intolerant don't necessarily have to consume milk and dairy products to get the calcium they need to maintain proper nutrition.

If you have trouble consuming enough calcium-rich foods in your daily diet, talk to your healthcare provider or a Registered Dietitian about taking a calcium supplement. The amount of calcium you will need from a supplement will depend on how much calcium you are consuming through food sources.

The following foods contain calcium:

Sardines3 oz.325 mg
Spinach (cooked)1 cup240 mg
Broccoli (cooked)1 cup180 mg
Calcium-fortified orange juice8 oz.350 mg
Calcium-fortified soy or almond milk8 oz.300 mg
Dried beans (cooked)1 and 1/2 cup150 mg
Tofu1/2 cup250 mg

Lactose-free diet

A lactose-free diet should be followed for 2 weeks. If symptoms have subsided after the 2-week strict diet, gradually add foods with lactose back into the diet slowly and monitor tolerance. You may be able to tolerate up to 12 grams of lactose at one time. The following lists can be used to help determine what foods to try in your diet:

Lactose content of milk and milk products

High-lactose foods

The following foods contain approximately 5-8 grams of lactose:

  • Milk (whole, reduced fat, fat-free, buttermilk): 1/2 cup
  • Condensed milk: 3 tbsp.
  • Evaporated milk: 1/4 cup
  • Cheese spread: 2 oz.
  • Cottage cheese: 3/4 cup
  • Ricotta cheese: 3/4 cup
  • Half-and-Half: 1/2 cup
  • Yogurt, plain: 1/2 cup
  • Ice cream: 3/4 cup
  • Ice milk: 3/4 cup
  • Sour cream: 1/2 cup
  • Heavy cream: 1/2 cup

Low-lactose foods

The following foods contain approximately 0-2 grams of lactose:

  • Milk, treated with lactase enzyme: 1/2 cup
  • Sherbet: 1/2 cup
  • Aged cheese (such as blue, brick, cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan): 1-2 oz.
  • Processed cheese: 1 oz.
  • Butter or margarine: 1 tsp.

The following ingredients come from milk and do not contain lactose:

  • Casein
  • Lactalbumin
  • Lactate
  • Lactic acid

Tips for adding lactose foods back after a lactose diet:

  • Gradually add small amounts of food and drinks that contain lactose to determine your tolerance level. You may be able to tolerate up to 1/2 cup of milk or the equivalent with each meal.
  • Drink milk in servings of one cup or less.
  • Try hard cheeses that are low in lactose, like cheddar.
  • Drink milk with a meal or with other foods.
  • Try yogurt or Greek yogurt with active cultures. You may be able to digest yogurt better than milk. Your own tolerance may vary depending on the brand. Frozen yogurt may not be tolerated as well as yogurt.
  • Substitute lactose-reduced dairy products and 100 percent lactose-free milk for regular dairy products. These products are located in the dairy section of most supermarkets.
  • The lactose enzyme is also available in tablet form and will help you to tolerate foods containing lactose. Right before eating, take 1-3 tablets, depending upon your lactose intolerance. Some over-the-counter enzyme products that are available include Lactaid®, Lactrace®, Dairy Ease®, and Sure-Lac®.
  • Many canned nutritional supplements (such as Ensure®, Boost®) are lactose-free. Product labels should be checked.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/01/2018.


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