Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dairy vs. Lactose

As I continue to dance around lactose in my diet, I realize I should probably take a step back and clarify what I mean by being lactose intolerant, yet am able to eat dairy.

Dairy = anything made from animal milk. Examples: egg, milk, cheese, yogurt, sour cream
Lactose = a sugar found in milk products.
Lactase = an enzyme in the human body that breaks down the lactose in milk products. When a person lacks this enzyme (such as myself), then the lactose does not get broken down, and the person will have unpleasant side effects as a result, called lactose intolerance.

Certain dairy products can be made lactose free. How?
  • Live cultures, a.k.a probiotics. These are healthy bacteria that, when ingested at the same time as lactose, will eat up the lactose. In the body, these live cultures digest the lactose, thereby eliminating those nasty side effects when lactose remains undigested. This method is what consistently allows me to eat dairy products without having a reaction to lactose! Basically, anything with live cultures renders the food lactose-free. Apply this to frozen yogurt (ex. Red Mango), cream cheese, and sour cream. Please see my post on probiotics for more specific brands.
  • Age. No, not your age, silly! Supposedly, as a cheese ages, the lactose dies off, leaving only traces. I've been told by many cheesemongers that the longer a cheese is aged, the more likely it would be safe for me to eat. However, keep in mind that this really depends on your own sensitivity. I continue to have a reaction to aged cheeses, so this unfortunately doesn't really work for me.
  • Lactase supplement. Since a person who is lactose intolerant lacks lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose), there are certain products that include lactase as an ingredient (Lactaid). You can also buy it in pill form and take with the first bite of food (found in any drugstore next to the peptol bismol). I pretty much avoid artificial forms of lactase, because it makes the food taste weirdly sweet, and I feel like the pills disrupt the natural balance of my digestive system. BUT - in occasional instances when I just need to splurge, I have been known to pop a pill and just indulge!
So there it is, I can have dairy, but not the lactose. All lactose is found in dairy, but not all dairy necessarily has lactose. Part of the joy of writing this blog is finding all the ways to enjoy the dairy without the lactose!

Please let me know if you need any clarification, or have anything to add by clicking on the comment link below!


  1. Interesting. I've always been able to eat cream cheese and sour cream with minimal ill effects.
    Now I know why.
    I hadn't really consciously thought about it before and just went "Oh!"
    Agreed that most lactase-enhanced products taste funny and you know I won't touch the pills.
    Now here's a question for you: cream in my coffee doesn't get me. I just assumed it might have something to do with the heat. Thoughts?

  2. This is really interesting, Brandy! All of those things you mentioned KILL me, which is a great example of how food sensitivities can be so unique to each individual. I wonder if, since you won't touch the pills and typically just "rough it" through eating lactose, you've built a better tolerance to lactose. I have heard of many people developing lactose intolerance after choosing to cut milk from their diets. Likewise, I have also read that having small, occasional "doses" of gluten help to build a better tolerance than a strict gluten free diet. Of course these theories do NOT apply to allergies; merely intolerances. Celiacs in particularly shouldn't mess around with any amount of gluten. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Ting,
    I think there's a strong argument for tolerance -- as a kid, I had to drink a glass of milk every day (because "kids need milk"). This led to epic dinner sessions with me left at the table because of the presumption was just that I was being a picky eater. Once I started making my own food choices, you couldn't pay me to drink milk.
    Also, frozen yogurt does get me (to my eternal dismay). And I don't mean to overplay my hand -- I can have a dollop of sour cream or half a bagel with cream cheese. That's about it.

  4. Hey, I grew up with the same milk torture!

    Re: frozen yogurt, they're not all created equal. Have you tried fro-yo with live cultures? Red Mango in particular is consistently kind to me. Also, check out Breyer's lactose free vanilla ice-cream - it's awesome!

  5. You're welcome for catching my disease. Strangely I've become more tolerant (in small doses). My theory is gradually introducing myself to small amounts of dairy products ..thus stimulating more and more lactose production. Another trick is spacing out lactose ingestion between a few days so the small amount of lactase I have can be synthesized.

  6. Great post! I always wanted to see the info broken down like this. And congrats again on keeping up this great blog!

  7. Thanks Praj, and thanks also for spreading the wealth of information :)


Additions, corrections and feedback welcome and appreciated!