Callie Yakubisin, RDN
Can you think of someone in your life (maybe it’s you!) who avoids some or all dairy foods because of lactose intolerance? I know I can.
Lactose intolerance can occur to varying degrees and happens when the body isn’t able to fully break down milk sugar (lactose). No one wants to worry about having an upset stomach after enjoying a meal, but lactose intolerance doesn’t have to mean complete dairy avoidance.
As a registered dietitian who knows the value dairy foods can bring to a diet, I want to clear up a few misconceptions.
Myth #1: All dairy foods contain high amounts of lactose. Thankfully this is not true. In addition to dairy foods specifically made for those with lactose intolerance, like lactose-free milk, natural cheeses like Swiss, Cheddar, and Parmesan have minimal amounts of lactose and are another option for those with lactose intolerance to try.
That means you can serve a beautiful charcuterie board that pairs natural cheeses with juicy fresh fruit, crunchy roasted nuts, and a warm whole-wheat baguette knowing even those with lactose intolerance should be able to enjoy it.
Myth #2: Plant-based yogurts are my only option if I have lactose intolerance. Not quite. Although yogurt does contain lactose, because it is a fermented food it also typically contains beneficial bacteria that helps digest the lactose. Those with lactose intolerance may find they tolerate real yogurt with live active cultures better than other dairy foods because of this.
Yogurt is a great way to add both protein and beneficial bacteria to smoothies; a green smoothie made with Greek yogurt, spinach, apples, and aromatic ginger is a perfect way to wake up your taste buds in the morning or repair your muscles after a workout!
Myth #3: You don’t miss out on much if you eliminate an entire food group like dairy. Food provides more than just calories; it provides a wide range of minerals and vitamins along with other important components our bodies need to thrive.
When entire food groups are eliminated, there is a risk of not getting enough of the nutrients your body needs to thrive. We see evidence of this in the fact that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans points out that about 90% of Americans are not meeting dairy recommendations and that calcium, potassium, and vitamin D (which can be found in dairy foods) are being under-consumed by Americans.
Myth #4: A milk allergy is the same as lactose intolerance. This is false. A milk allergy, which is a response to the protein in milk, is not as common and requires an avoidance of dairy to prevent a potentially serious allergic reaction.
For those faced with this challenge, a registered dietitian can help provide guidance. Alternatively, when you have lactose intolerance you are dealing with symptoms related to your body not properly digesting the milk sugar. Unlike milk protein, you can find many dairy foods that either naturally occur with very low levels of lactose or have the lactose filtered out.
Using lactose-free milk in a fall favorite like Butternut Squash Soup is an easy way to make a more inclusive soup that people of all lactose-digesting abilities will be able to enjoy!
If you’re avoiding dairy because of lactose intolerance but miss the delicious taste and nutritious benefits, try lactose-free milk, natural cheeses, and fermented yogurt. They may be just the right fit for you!
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