Do Lactase Lactaid Pills Work for Lactose Intolerance?

Do you ever feel a little off after you’ve downed a glass of milk?

Woman Showing Lactose Intolerance Pill

Maybe you’re a bit bloated, or you notice some extra gas.

Or perhaps you have stomach craps or diarrhea.

Or maybe you just feel fatigued.

These could all be signs that you have lactose intolerance.

Lactose intolerance is surprisingly widespread, so it wouldn’t be unusual.

In this article, I’ll teach you everything you want to know about lactose intolerance.

I’ll then answer questions you may have about whether lactase pills such as Lactaid can help you enjoy your favourite lactose products without symptoms.

I will also let you know what alternatives are out there to fill gaps in your diet and prepare your favourite recipes with substitutions.

What is Lactose and Lactase?

Before we can talk about lactose intolerance, we first need to talk about lactose.

Lactose is a milk sugar.

It is found not only in cow’s milk, but also in the milk of most other species as well.

lactose chemical symbol

In order to digest lactose, you need a particular enzyme called “lactase.”

That brings us to the matter of lactose intolerance.

KEY POINT: Lactose is a milk sugar. To digest it, you need an enzyme called lactase.

​What Is Lactose Intolerance​?

Lactose intolerance is a condition where your body is unable to process lactose properly.

Calling it a “condition” is a bit misleading, because it is not really something that is “wrong.”

In fact, you can actually consider lactose intolerance to be a default.

When mammals are born, they feed on their mothers’ milk.

Baby mammals are able to do this thanks to the presence of lactase in their digestive tracts.

​Remember​lactase is a digestive enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose into simple digestible sugars.

But as mammals grow older and no longer need the milk, their bodies stop producing the lactase necessary to digest the lactose in milk.

woman refusing milk

As a result, adult mammals of most species are lactose intolerant.

Humans are something of an exception because we enjoy milk and other dairy products.

As a result, we continue to consume them long after we stop breastfeeding.

That means that a percentage of the human population has developed an adaptation to lactose.

This adaptation is referred to as “lactase persistence.”

Even as adults, those with the adaptation continue to produce sufficient lactase to keep digesting lactose without any issues.

Indeed, lactose tolerant human adults are the minority.

About 65% of the entire global population is at least somewhat lactose-intolerant (1).

That includes not just adults, but teenagers and older children as well.

How common lactose intolerance is varies from culture to culture, based on the foods and beverages common in each.

In Asian cultures for example, dairy products comprise a relatively small part of the regular diet.

As a result, the lactase persistence adaptation is not very common there.

Only around 5-10% of the population of East Asia is estimated (2) to tolerate lactose.

Contrast this with European countries, where dairy products play a prominent role in diet.

There, lactase persistence is much more common. Indeed, among the British, the rate is estimated to range anywhere from 85-95% (3, 4, 5).

So the more exposure there is to lactose, the less likely members of a society are to develop lactose intolerance.

If you grew up in a culture where everyone puts milk in their tea, there is a good chance you have no difficulty with dairy products.

But if you grew up in East Asia, there is a really strong likelihood that you are lactose intolerant or will become lactose intolerant.

This does not seem to be solely a genetic factor. It is a reflection of lifestyle habits as well. More on that later in the article.

KEY POINT: Lactose intolerance is actually more common than lactose tolerance.

Indeed, it is the default state of being for human adults as well as other adult mammals.

In societies where dairy intake is frequent and widespread, lactose tolerance via lactase persistence is common.

But in cultures where adults consume little dairy, most people are lactose intolerant.

​​​​What Causes Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance can be broken down into two different categories:

  • Primary
  • Secondary

Primary lactose intolerance is lactose intolerance which isn’t caused by another condition.

It is simply the direct result of declining production of the lactase enzyme.

lactase break lactose into sugars

This is the type of lactose intolerance which we have already discussed. The vast majority of lactose intolerance cases fall within this pile.

Secondary lactose intolerance on the other hand is not common at all.

This is lactose intolerance which results from stomach inflammation (6), such as that caused by illness.

Primary lactose intolerance is permanent, unless steps are taken to reverse it (which I will get to later on).

Secondary lactose intolerance is tied to inflammation, so once the inflammation goes away, lactase production generally returns to normal and symptoms abate.

While it’s common for lactose intolerance to become obvious in childhood, many people do not develop it until they are teens or even adults.

KEY POINT: Lactose intolerance is either “primary” or “secondary.”

Primary lactose intolerance is simply what happens when your body doesn’t produce enough lactase to digest lactose properly anymore.

Secondary lactose intolerance results from stomach inflammation.

Primary lactose intolerance is far more common than secondary lactose intolerance.

​What Are the Symptoms and Signs of Lactose Intolerance​?

​How do you know if you are lactose intolerant? A number of symptoms commonly occur.

Let’s take a look at them now.

1. Pain and bloating in the digestive tract.

young boy has a bellyache

If you have a hard time digesting lactose, that is typically going to manifest as cramping, bloating and pain in your digestive system.

To understand why this happens, let’s consider what happens inside the body.

If you drink a glass of milk and lactose enters your gut, your body tries to digest it.

If you do not have the lactase needed to accomplish this, your stomach is unable to get the job done.

At that point, the lactose passes through your stomach and into your intestines. Eventually, it makes its way to your colon.

Your colon lining cannot absorb lactose, but the micro-organisms inhabiting your large intestine can break it down (7).

This process involves fermentation. This in turn produces hydrogen, carbon dioxide, methane and short-chain fatty acids (8).

These by-products are exactly what causes you to experience gas if you are lactose intolerant.

As for the stomach cramps, that is a result of the acid build-up.

As gas and water increase in your large intestine, that stretches the walls of your digestive tract.

This is what produces the sensation of bloating.

How bad your symptoms are has less to do with how much lactose you consume and more to do with how sensitive your system is (9).

For some people, sensitivity is high enough that symptoms may progress to nausea and vomiting.

This is relatively rare, but it happens most often with children (10, 11).

KEY POINT: When lactose makes it to your colon without being properly digested through the action of lactase, the fermentation and breakdown process results in the release of acidic and gaseous by-products.

As a result, you experience gas, bloating, and stomach cramps.

2. Diarrhea

Diarrhea is another common symptom of lactose intolerance.

As just mentioned in the section above, the amount of water in your colon increases if you are lactose intolerant and you have consumed lactose-containing foodstuffs.

toilet busy sign

This means that your stool can become more water and voluminous.

This symptom is seen most often in children and babies who are lactose intolerant. It is less common for adults to experience diarrhea induced by lactose consumption (8).

Just how much lactose do you need to consume to result in diarrhea?

Diarrhea typically results from no less than 1.6 ounces (45) grams of carbs in the colon.

If your body is unable to digest lactose at all, that would require you to drink around 3-4 cups of milk to induce the symptom (7).

Keep in mind that there are other foods and drinks which may contribute to diarrhea as well.

Indeed, the reference I just linked reveals that anywhere from 2-20% of all the carbs you eat​ - regardless of their source​ - will pass undigested through your system.

So if you are already eating a lot of carbs, it is possible that you would not need to drink nearly that much milk in order to experience diarrhea.

KEY POINT: Diarrhea is another possible symptom of lactose intolerance.

It results from the extra water present in the colon. It is more common for children to experience than adults.

3. Gas

I have already touched on this symptom a bit, but let’s get into it a little bit more.

You already know that the increased gas you experience with lactose intolerance is the result of the release of carbon dioxide, methane and hydrogen (7).

mid section of woman having wind  in her stomach

One thing I have not mentioned however is that the microflora in your colon actually adapt to breaking down the lactose the more they are exposed to it.

That means that they become super-efficient at the job.

The result is that this too increases the production of gas in your colon.

The only upshot is that the gas which is produced is odorless (see the same reference linked above).

Foul-smelling flatulence results when proteins are broken down in your colon, not carbs.

KEY POINT: Gas is a frequent symptom of lactose intolerance.

It results from the increasingly efficient breakdown process which occurs in the colon.

Thankfully, the gas in question usually has no odor.

4. Constipation

While lactose intolerance can lead to diarrhea, it can also lead to its opposite.

This symptom is less common than diarrhea.

When it does occur, it is thought that it may be tied to the methane gas which is produced through the breakdown of lactose in the colon.

Woman in toilet as got constipation through lactose intolerance

The presence of the methane results in the digestive process slowing down (8).

This in turn may lead to constipation.

Unfortunately, not a lot of research has focused on this connection with regard to lactose intolerance.

Instead, it has been studied mainly in relation to IBS.

Nonetheless, there are many reports of constipation occurring in conjunction with lactose intolerance (12, 13, 14).

More research is needed in this area to establish whether there really is a solid link, or whether constipation in these cases is resulting from other factors (such as IBS, diabetes, medication use, and so on).

KEY POINT: Constipation is not as common as diarrhea in lactose intolerant individuals, but it is an associated symptom.

​5. A Variety of Other Symptoms May Occur in Connection with Lactose Intolerance

The majority of symptoms which are strongly linked to lactose intolerance are gastrointestinal in nature.

Nonetheless, there are reports (15, 16) of a number of other symptoms as well.

woman weary of lactose holding glass of milk

Some of these include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Difficulties with concentration
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Difficulties with urination
  • Eczema
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Acne

Research has yet to establish with certainty whether these symptoms are actually caused by lactose intolerance or not.

If you do experience them however, you should consider that a lot of other people with lactose intolerance report them too.

So if you have gastrointestinal symptoms associated with lactose intolerance as well, it is possible that you are indeed intolerant.

KEY POINT: While science has yet to prove a causative link, many people report that they experience a variety of non-GI symptoms in association with lactose intolerance.

These include fatigue, headaches, muscle and joint pain, brain fog, eczema, ulcers, and difficulty with urination.

​Do Not Confuse Lactose Intolerance with an Allergy to Milk

Do you have the following symptoms?

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Asthma
  • Eczema
  • Skin rashes
  • Anaphylaxis
Thoughtful woman standing against white background, thinking of symptoms of lactose intolerance

These are all symptoms which are associated with an allergic reaction to milk (17).

Milk allergies are more common than you may think. It is estimated (18) that around 5% of the world’s population is allergic to milk.

Some people outgrow milk allergies when they reach adulthood.

You probably noticed that there is some overlap in symptoms between milk allergy and lactose intolerance.

This means that it can be hard to tell which is responsible for a patient’s symptoms (19).

The two conditions are not actually related.

Having lactose intolerance does not mean that you have a “slight allergy” to milk or are going to develop one.

Milk allergy is a serious condition, so if you suspect that you may have one, it is worth talking to a doctor about it.

KEY POINT: The symptoms of milk allergy and lactose intolerance may sometimes be similar, but they are two separate, unrelated conditions.

​How Long Does it Take Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance to Manifest After Consuming Lactose?

It is helpful to know not only what the symptoms of lactose intolerance are, but how long it usually takes them to appear.

Most of the time, symptoms will not appear immediately as you eat or drink.

Instead, they will show up anywhere from half an hour to two hours later.

woman drinking milk

In some people, symptoms are mild, while in others, they are severe (20). In still others, they are moderate.

As mentioned before, it is the sensitivity which typically determines the severity, not the amount of lactose.

Also keep in mind that pain and other bodily symptoms are subjective in nature, modified through a variety of psychological and physiological factors.

One person’s mild cramps may be severe for another.

KEY POINT: The symptoms of lactose intolerance usually show up anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours after consuming lactose.

Remember, The Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance May Also Result From Other Conditions

Let’s again consider the list of symptoms which have been associated with lactose intolerance:

  • Cramps and bloating
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Difficulties with concentration
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Difficulties with urination
  • Eczema
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Acne

Think for a moment about how many other conditions can cause any one of these symptoms, or even multiple symptoms from the same set.

For example, if you have cramps, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation, you could have IBS or another gastrointestinal condition.

It is possible that you have both lactose intolerance and another health condition.

You could also only have lactose intolerance, or only have another condition with no lactose intolerance whatsoever.

Man holding up a question mark symbol

Also note that there are situations where another condition can cause temporary lactose intolerance (secondary lactose intolerance).

For example, I know someone who had post-infectious IBS.

During the years he had the IBS, he thought he was lactose intolerant, and vastly restricted the dairy products in his diet for a number of months.

Eventually he made a recovery from IBS (as happens sometimes in post-infectious cases).

Later he started eating dairy again, and didn’t have any issues.

So this was a case where it seems that the lactose intolerance symptoms were connected to the IBS.

Whether they were actual “lactose intolerance” or simply IBS symptoms cannot be established, but they were temporary.

Incidentally, I too got post-infectious IBS from the same food.

For me it also lasted for years, though it presented with different symptoms.

I never experienced the lactose intolerance symptom at all, but I did experience some other symptoms he did not.

This example serves to illustrate how complex conditions in the body can be in terms of how they interact and how they present.

So differential diagnosis is important. If you are in any doubt as to what is causing your symptoms, seeing a doctor may be a helpful step to take.

KEY POINT: There are a lot of different health conditions which can cause the same symptoms of lactose intolerance.

It is wise to consider the broad range of possibilities before you assume one thing or another.

What Foods and Beverages Can Produce Lactose Intolerance Symptoms?

Now you know what lactose intolerance is. You are familiar with its prevalence, and you know how to recognize some of the symptoms. 

But how can you avoid lactose intolerance symptoms?

If you want to steer clear of the gas, bloating and cramping caused by your lactose intolerance, you need to also steer clear of foods and beverages which contain lactose.

diary foods

You will find lactose in these dairy products:

  • Milk (whether from a cow or a goat)
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Ice cream
  • Butter
  • Sour cream
  • Whipped cream
  • Heavy cream
  • Cream cheese

Foods which are made using dairy products can sometimes have lactose in them as well.

Some examples include:

  • Breads and pastries
  • Cookies
  • Biscuits
  • Cakes and brownies
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Chocolates and other confections
  • Soups
  • Sauces
  • Crisps and other snacks
  • Other assorted desserts
  • Gravies
  • Sauces
  • Processed meats
  • Pre-packaged meals
  • Quiches and similar foods

Here are words to watch out for on ingredients labels:

  • Milk
  • Milk powder
  • Milk casein
  • Milk sugar
  • Milk solids
  • Dry milk solids
  • Whey
  • Whey protein
  • Whey protein concentrate
  • Malted milk
  • Cheese
  • Curds
  • Buttermilk
  • Sour cream
  • Milk by-products

Finally, here are some ingredients you may see listed which look concerning, but contain zero lactose:

  • Lactic acid
  • Casein
  • Lactate
  • Lactalbumin

KEY POINT: If you see a dairy product for sale in the supermarket, it contains lactose and can set off your lactose intolerance symptoms.

But there are also a lot of other foods which can do the same because they may contain dairy-based ingredients.

Read labels with care so that you do not get caught off guard.

What Nutrition Do You Miss Out on If You Avoid Foods Which Contain Lactose?

If you are not eating dairy, you need to be aware that you are missing out on some key nutrients (21):

Indeed, researchers have found that people who eat dairy products can reduce their risk for obesity as well as type 2 diabetes (22, 23, 24, 25).

It has also been discovered that eating more dairy can help protect your bones (26, 27, 28).

KEY POINT: Even though most species stop drinking milk after infancy, consuming dairy products throughout your life can benefit your health by providing you with protein, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin K and vitamin B12.

​Alternative Sources of Dairy Nutrients

If you are lactose intolerant and are avoiding dairy products, you need to make sure you are filling the nutritional gaps in your diet.

Here are some non-dairy sources for the key nutrients found in dairy products.

Calcium (29)

  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Fortified fruit juices
  • Fortified soy products
  • Fortified rice products
  • Fortified breads
  • Fortified pastas
  • Fish (especially the type which is canned and still contains the bones)
  • Collard and turnip greens
  • Other beans and leafy greens
Green vegetables

Just make sure that the fortified foods you are buying have not been fortified specifically with dairy ingredients.

Protein (30)

  • Fish and other seafood
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Pork tenderloin
  • Soy
  • Lean beef

Vitamin A (31)

  • Sweet potato
  • Beef liver
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Pumpkin
  • Cantaloupe
  • Peppers
  • Mangoes
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Apricots
  • Broccoli
  • Tomato juice
  • Fish

Vitamin D (32)

  • Cod liver oil
  • Swordfish
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Fortified orange juice
  • Fortified margarine
  • Sardines
  • Beef liver
  • Eggs
  • Fortified cereal

Vitamin B12 (33)

KEY POINT: If you are not going to be eating dairy products, you need to get the important nutrients which are present in dairy products from other sources.

Thankfully, there are a lot of great options out there, including meat, fish, eggs, leafy greens, and fortified foods.

​Are There Any Lactose-Containing Foods That You Can Still Eat If You Are Lactose-Intolerant?

If you are lactose intolerant, that does not necessarily mean you can never eat dairy again.

It does mean you need to limit your intake, but in some cases, you may not have to give it up.

Depending on your sensitivity, you may be able to ingest small amounts of lactose with minimal or no symptoms.

boy cutting butter

This can work particularly well if it is not done all in one sitting (34).

Studies have demonstrated that many lactose intolerant individuals are able to handle as much as 12 grams of lactose at a time (34, 35, 36, 37, 38).

That is the equivalent of what you would find in a cup of milk.

Some people with lactose intolerance also find that certain dairy products are less problematic than others.

The person I mentioned earlier who was temporarily lactose-intolerant during post-infectious IBS for example had an easier time with butter than milk.

That is likely because one does not eat a lot of butter at a time.

For every 20 grams of butter, there are only 0.1 grams of lactose.

The same goes for cheese. Cheese is also relatively low in lactose compared to milk.

If you eat a serving of Swiss, cheddar, Monterey Jack, Colby or mozzarella cheese, you are consuming less than 1 gram of lactose.

Some people who have a hard time with lactose also discover that yogurt is not as problematic (39, 40, 41, 42).

KEY POINT: If you are lactose intolerant, you might still be able to consume small quantities of lactose without too many issues.

Give butter and cheese a try. Yogurt may also be a safe choice.

​What Are Lactaid Pills?

As promised, let’s now talk about lactase pills such as Lactaid.

Lactase pills are a medication developed to treat lactose intolerance. Lactaid is a well-known brand name.

The pills contain lactase.

lactase lactaid pill supplement box

The idea is simple. When you want to eat dairy, you take one of the pills, providing your body with the lactase you cannot produce on your own.

In theory, the lactase from the pill will help break down the lactose.

That way it can pass through your system without causing lactose intolerance symptoms.

You are supposed to be able to take Lactaid safely as often as you want.

This sounds quite amazing; you just pop a pill and you can go on enjoying your favourite dairy products as much as you like.

KEY POINT: Lactase pills such as Lactaid contain lactase as their working ingredient (just as the name indicates).

In theory, they should break the lactose you eat for you so you can enjoy dairy products without consequence.

​Do Lactaid Pills Work?

While Lactaid sounds awesome, we all know that there is a difference between theory and reality.

So let’s find out whether Lactaid actually works.

There are a couple of studies that look into lactase pills.

  • This (43) study included sixty participants who were randomized into three different groups. One group received a placebo, another received Lactobacillus reuteri (which is a probiotic), and a third received tilactase (this is the active ingredient form of lactase found in lactase pills). The researchers found that, “In lactose intolerants, tilactase strongly improves both LBT results and gastrointestinal symptoms after lactose ingestion with respect to placebo. Lactobacillus reuteri also is effective but lesser than tilactase.”
  • Another study (44) found that participants taking lactase pills had significant improvements with regards to bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
  • It is important to note that while it is rare, some people may be allergic to lactase in its supplemental form (45).
  • Quite a lot of data shows varying degrees of effectiveness for lactase pills from person to person (49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56).

What are actual consumers saying about the effectiveness of lactase pills?

woman holding glass of milk and lactaid supplement bottle

As of the time of this writing, WebMD users have submitted the following (46) ratings:

  • Ease of use: 3.28 stars out of 5
  • Effectiveness: 2.15 stars out of 5
  • Satisfaction: 1.91 stars out of 5

There are 73 user reviews averaged together at this time.

If you actually look through the breakdown and read the comments, you will notice that most people either had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the pills or an overwhelmingly negative one.

This is likely going to be an “all or nothing” treatment, judging by that pattern. Either it will probably help a lot, or not at all.

Quite a few commenters make mention of vomiting, pain and other side effects while using lactase pills.

It is not all that clear from the comments whether the cause of the symptoms is the use of the lactase pills or whether it is simply from the return to dairy products (with the lactase pills simply not working).

Nonetheless, a number of reviewers do mention that they believe the pills are the culprit, because those specific symptoms only presented when taking them.

So do Lactaid pills work or not?

It all depends on who you ask. They seem to produce positive results for some users and not for others.

KEY POINT: Lactase pills have mixed reviews from users, though there are studies which show that they work.

The only way to know whether or not they will work for you is to give them a try.

​Do Lactaid Pills Have Side Effects?

It is worth taking a little extra time to address the question of lactase pills side effects.

There is no way to state with absolute certainty whether the “side effects” reported by WebMD users were really from the pills.

WebMD itself reports (47), “This medication usually has very few side effects. If you have any unusual effects from taking this medication, contact your doctor or pharmacist promptly.”

woman question pills

You will find this under the “Side Effects” tab at the linked reference.

WebMD also states, “A very serious allergic reaction to this drug is rare. However, get medical help right away if you notice any symptoms of a serious allergic reaction, including: rash, itching/swelling (especially of the face/tongue/throat), severe dizziness, trouble breathing.”

Lactaid itself states (48), “Since LACTAID® products are real dairy, without the annoying lactose, you shouldn’t experience any side effects. If you continue to experience symptoms like bloating, gas, or stomach upset, your should contact your healthcare provider, as you may have another condition.”

This is of course just the word of the company.

Doubtless they have done a lot of research and testing before going to market, but they obviously have a vested interest as well.

KEY POINT: Whether or not lactase pills have side effects also seems to depend on who you ask.

​If you are allergic, you will of course have side effects. In theory, no one else is supposed to, but quite a few users report them.

So at this point, there is nothing determinate we can say on the matter.

​Alternative Treatments for Lactose Intoleranc​e

​If you do decide to give lactase pills a try, hopefully they will work for you without producing any side effects.

But if they do not produce the results you are looking for or you simply want to try another tactic, there are some alternative treatments you can consider.

Think About Taking Probiotics and Prebiotics

Let’s start by considering probiotics and prebiotics.

Probiotics are healthy microorganisms which live in our digestive tracts (57).

These microorganisms need to consume food to survive, namely fibers referred to as “prebiotics.”

hand heart sign on stomach

A few small studies have demonstrated that taking probiotics or prebiotics can help to counteract lactose intolerance symptoms (58, 59, 60).

The type of probiotics and prebiotics you choose to consume can make a difference in the effectiveness of this treatment (61).

For example, researchers have discovered that Bifidobacteria may be one of the most powerful options available (62, 63).

If you shop for yogurts and supplements which contain probiotics, you should find that this is a pretty common ingredient.

KEY POINT: If you are looking for an alternative to lactase pills, one possibility is taking prebiotics and/or probiotics, both of which may be helpful in alleviating your symptoms.

More research is needed to say with certainty that this path can work, but it is well worth giving a try.

It can only help your overall health since probiotics are really good for you!

​Try Building Tolerance Through Exposure

Earlier I mentioned that genetics may not be the sole determining factor in whether someone will develop lactose intolerance or not.

There are indications that lifestyle matters too.

There are not a whole lot of studies which look into this yet, but a few have shown that our bodies may be able to develop at least a partial adaptation through exposure (64, 65, 66, 67).

One particularly interesting study is this (68) one.

Participants who consumed lactose for just 16 days produced three times the amount of lactase as those who did not.

This implies that you can develop an adaptation fairly quickly.

If you start increasing your lactose intake today and stick with it despite the discomfort, within just a few weeks, you may find your symptoms go down.

bowl cottage cheese and glass of milk

Now, more research is needed before this method can be recommended with total confidence, but I can personally attest to the role of lifestyle factors in lactose intolerance.

For six months or so, I ate as a vegan. During that time, I ate almost no meat nor dairy.

Eventually, I decided to start eating meat and dairy again.

I didn’t particularly enjoy giving up either (though it was nice to learn to appreciate my veggies), so when I did, I promptly decided to celebrate with a huge cheeseburger and a malt.

I thought this would be a fabulous experience. And while I was eating, it was.

But I can’t even tell you how bloated, heavy and uncomfortable I was over the hours that followed.

It was obvious to me that my digestive tract was having a very rough time with the abrupt reintroduction of the meat and/or dairy.

Being as I had reintroduced the two simultaneously, I cannot say with 100% certainty that this was a lactose issue rather than a meat issue, but it seems like it fits the profile.

It didn’t seem surprising to me after such a long break from digesting these foods that there would be difficulties, so rather than let it worry me, I just went back to eating them as usual.

After all, I reasoned that I had consumed them without any hassles for most of my life. Why shouldn’t I be able to again?

Within just a few days, my system started to adjust again.

Eating the dairy was still uncomfortable, but it was not as bad as it was that first evening (actually, even day 2 wasn’t nearly as bad as day 1).

After a few more weeks, I ceased to have difficulties. The meat and dairy went down without a problem. It was as if I had never quit eating them.

I have been enjoying dairy products ever since with no digestive issues of any kind. I feel pretty sure though that if I ever took another long break from dairy, I would have a repeat of that bloating experience.

So this experience demonstrated to me that lifestyle does indeed impact how your body deals with lactose.

There is quite a bit of debate over whether the plural of anecdote is or isn’t data, but my feeling on the matter is that an anecdote is one datum point, no more and no less.

Sometimes that does add up to data, and sometimes it doesn’t.

So my story does not necessarily prove anything​ - but to me, my experience lends more credence to the idea that lactose tolerance can be gained or lost at least in part through our ongoing dietary choices.

At least some of the time, lactose intolerance may even be reversible​ - as it was in my temporary case.

KEY POINT: There are a few studies which suggest that it may be possible to reverse lactose intolerance, at least in part.

This can be done through exposing oneself to lactose regularly over a period of time. 

Within just a few weeks, your body may begin to augment lactase production, resulting in fewer symptoms.

​Useful Dairy Substitutes for Cooking

What if nothing helps you to reduce your lactose intolerance symptoms? If all methods fail, you might need to settle for avoidance of some or all dairy ingredients.

If that ends up being the case, it is helpful to know how to substitute for dairy in recipes.

That way you can keep on enjoying foods which traditionally include dairy, but do not have to.


What you need to do to replace butter depends on the way it is being used in the recipe in question.

butter on spoon

If you are baking without butter, you can try using a soy margarine replacement.

If you are frying something up, just switch the butter out with a healthy oil.

Try and pick something with a light, neutral flavour so that you will not change the flavour of the resulting dish too much.


There are a number of different ingredients which can be used to substitute for buttermilk in a recipe.

You can try using soy yogurt or a blend of unsweetened soy milk with soy sour cream.

Another option is to mix soy milk with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar.


If you must replace cheese in a recipe, you can try using tofu or nutritional yeast.

Light cream

To replace light cream, try whole coconut milk or dairy-free soy coffee cream.

Alternately, you can mix soy milk with either soy milk powder or soy margarine (melt the soy margarine first).

Heavy cream

Replacing heavy cream is not too difficult if you have some cream of coconut on hand.

Otherwise, you can mix soy margarine with unsweetened soy milk (for this substitute as well you must melt the margarine).


glass of milk

Milk thankfully is an easy one. You can go to the store and find whole rows of milk replacement.

Try rice milk, soy milk or almond milk. Coconut milk and other types of nut milk are available as well.

Flavored and unflavored varieties are available (i.e. chocolate or vanilla soy milk).

Evaporated milk

To replace evaporated milk in a dish, you can try using soy yogurt or soy coffee creamer.

Sweetened condensed milk

Try sweetening soy milk powder with a little stevia, and then mix it with soy milk and soy coffee creamer.

Another easy option is just to melt some vanilla soy ice cream. Stir it into some soy milk powder so you get the texture you need.

Sour cream

There are soy-based sour cream substitutes on the market.

If you want to make your own sour cream substitute however, there are a couple of options you can consider.

You can try using a food processor to blend tofu with lemon juice or ACV, or you can stir together soy milk powder and soy yogurt with a dash of salt.


To replace butter ghee, just melt some soy-based margarine.

Needless to say, most easy dairy substitutes require the use of soy in some way, shape or form.

If you are avoiding soy products, that will make it a lot harder to enjoy recipes which traditionally use dairy.

KEY POINT: If you have decided not to use dairy in your cooking at all, you may still be able to make a lot of the same recipes you would if you were eating dairy.

You can use dairy substitutes like soy or coconut milk instead.

​5 Delicious Lactose-Free Recipes to Enj​oy

​5 Delicious Lactose-Free Recipes to Enjoy

Now that you know a bit more about substituting for dairy in recipes, I thought I would share a few lactose-free recipes with you.

You can replace sugars with stevia, swerve or another natural sweetener.

1. Lactose-Free Blueberry Muffins

​These blueberry muffins make a delicious breakfast or dessert.

Once you learn to prepare them, you can easily vary the recipe to make other kinds of lactose-free muffins.

lactose free blueberry muffins


  • ½ cup lactose-free margarine
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¼ cups of white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ cup soy milk
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar


  1. ​Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Put lining inside your muffin tins. Spray around the edges or coat with oil so that the muffins will not stick.
  3. Get a large bowl and add the salt, sugar and margarine.
  4. Start adding the eggs one by one. As you do, blend them individually into the mixture.
  5. Get another bowl and add the baking powder and the flour.
  6. Use the baking powder and flour mixture to coat the blueberries.
  7. Add any flour and baking powder mixture which is leftover to the other bowl which contains the eggs, margarine, salt and sugar.
  8. Add in the vanilla extract, soy milk and lime juice. Continue to stir.
  9. Finally, add the blueberries to the mix.
  10. Pour the finished batter into the muffin tins, filling each of the cups as evenly as possible.
  11. Add some sugar to the top of each.
  12. Put the muffins in the oven to cook for 25 minutes.
  13. Check on the muffins to monitor their progress. Once they are a golden brown color and are slightly springy when compressed, they are done.
  14. Pull the muffins out and let them cool for 10 minutes. If you try to remove them before that, they are more likely to stick.

2. Vegan Shortbread Cookies

​Shortbread is a dessert which is traditionally very buttery in flavor. So the idea of making a lactose-free version may sound counterintuitive.

Nonetheless, these shortbread cookies are fully vegan and also contain no gluten.

While you might worry that they will be excessively crumbly, you should find that they are pretty solid if you follow the directions with care.

vegan cookies

There are only a few ingredients, so they are easy and fast to prepare.


  • 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 cups of vegan margarine
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 3 cups gluten-free flour
  • 1 pinch salt


  1. ​Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Add the sugar and margarine to a bowl and blend them until they take on a creamy consistency. You may need an electric mixer to help you with this step.
  3. Add the salt, cornstarch and flour to the bowl.
  4. Continue to stir the ingredients together until they form a dough.
  5. Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a cutting board, counter or other work surface.
  6. Use a rolling pin to flatten the dough to around ½ inch.
  7. Use your cookie cutters to make the individual cookies.
  8. Transfer the cookies to your baking sheet.
  9. Put the cookies in the oven and bake them for around 15-20 minutes. Once they have turned a light brown color, they are done.

3. Lactose-Free Corn Chowder

​Moving away from desserts, here is a delicious corn chowder which you can prepare without any lactose.

Interestingly enough, the recipe was invented on the fly by a person who had meant to use dairy, but discovered he was out of milk in the middle of the recipe.

This recipe only has a few steps, so it is a great choice for a beginner.

lactose free corn chowder


  • 5 peeled and cubed potatoes
  • 1 celery stick, chopped
  • ½ cup green onions, chopped
  • ½ cup leeks, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 2 cups corn
  • 1 cup non-dairy creamer
  • Salt and pepper


  1. ​Place the potatoes in a 3 quart pot and pour in water to cover them completely.
  2. Boil the potatoes for an hour. If the water level drops below the height of the potatoes, just add more as needed.
  3. Add the leeks, celery and onions.
  4. Continue boiling for another hour.
  5. Drop the heat to low.
  6. The corn and parsley can now be added to the pot.
  7. Continue heating.
  8. The last step is to pour in the non-dairy creamer. After this, you can remove the chowder from the heat and serve it right away.

4. Paleo Caramel Sauce

​This caramel sauce is free of lactose and gluten.

It can be used in a wide range of other recipes, making it a versatile topping to learn how to make. There are only two ingredients.

paleo caramel sauce


  • ½ cup honey
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened coconut cream

Note: You can purchase coconut cream to use from the store. If for whatever reason you cannot find it, you can buy coconut milk instead.

If you flip it upside down and place it in your fridge for a full day, you can turn it over at the end of that period and you’ll find all the cream has gone to the top.

You can then skim it off and set it aside to use in this recipe.


  1. ​Put a saucepan on the stove over medium-high heat.
  2. Pour in the honey and the coconut cream.
  3. Whisk these two ingredients together and keep stirring.
  4. Eventually, the sauce will boil. At that point, set a timer for 4 minutes.
  5. Continue to stir. Make sure that the sauce isn’t sticking to the sides of the saucepan or the bottom.
  6. When the timer goes off, the sauce is done, and should be removed from the heat right away.
  7. Pour the sauce into a bowl and wait for it to cool. As it does so, it will thicken. This takes approximately 3 minutes.

5. Easy Almond Thin Cookies

​These cookies are lactose-free, and are more mildly sweet than many other desserts.

If you make a large batch, you can freeze some of them for later.

almond cookies


  • 1/3 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon chopped and slivered almonds
  • ½ cup almond flour


  1. ​Start out by preheating the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Get a baking dish measuring 8x8, and line the inside with parchment paper.
  3. Grab a bowl and mix together the egg white, almond extract and coconut sugar.
  4. Add the almond flour and continue mixing.
  5. Once the batter is ready, you can put it in the baking dish. Distribute it as evenly as you can.
  6. Scatter the sliced almonds on top.
  7. Apply gentle pressure to the almonds to embed them slightly into the top of the batter.
  8. Bake for around 25 minutes. When the cookies have a golden brown color, they are done.
  9. Let the cookies cool off for around an hour.
  10. Orange Cake with Semolina and Almonds

6. Orange Cake with Semolina and Almonds

​Not only can you bake cookies and muffins without using dairy, but you can also prepare moist, delectable cake.

This summery dessert has a light and refreshing flavor and contains no lactose.

If you keep it in a sealed container, it can store well for a couple of days without drying out.

orange cake


  • 5 eggs with the whites and yolks separated
  • 2 large oranges, chopped with skin
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ¾ cup semolina flour
  • ¾ cup ground almonds
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons orange liqueur
  • ½ teaspoon fiori di Sicilia (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon confectioner’s sugar (optional)


  1. ​Add a tablespoon of water to a small saucepan, and then put in your chopped oranges.
  2. Cover the saucepan and turn the heat on medium-low for about half an hour.
  3. Check on the oranges. If they are soft and there is no excess liquid left, they are done. Remove them from the stovetop and wait for them to cool.
  4. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Use parchment paper to line an 8 inch pan.
  6. When the oranges are fully cooled off, transfer them to a food processor and use it to chop them more finely.
  7. Put the egg whites in a bowl. Beat them until you get stiff peaks.
  8. Pour in half a cup of sugar slowly, beating the eggs while you do. You can stop after 1 minute.
  9. In a different bowl, beat together the egg yolks and another half cup of sugar. After 2-3 minutes, you can stop.
  10. Next, get the chopped oranges from before and whisk those into the bowl with the egg yolks.
  11. Add the semolina, ground almonds, fiori di Sicilia and vanilla extract and continue mixing.
  12. Transfer three spoonfuls of the egg white mixture and stir.
  13. Once the batter is more pliable, you can add the rest of the egg whites. Continue mixing until you have a homogenous batter.
  14. Pour the batter into the pan.
  15. Bake for around 50 minutes. You can check if the cake is done by looking for a golden brown color. You also can insert a fork and pull it out. If it emerges clean, you know the cake is done.
  16. Once baking is complete, remove the cake from the oven and wait for it to cool.
  17. Pull the cake out of the pan and move it to a plate.
  18. Sprinkle the confectioner’s sugar on the top along with a drizzling of the orange liqueur.

KEY POINT: Even if you cannot eat dairy products, that does not mean that you cannot enjoy a lot of delicious foods.

You now have a few exciting dairy-free recipes to try out.

​Conclusion: Lactose Intolerance is Widespread, But There Are Ways to Enjoy Delicious Food While Getting the Nutrition You Need

A lot of people think of lactose intolerance as a health condition, but it should more properly be considered the standard mammalian condition for adults of any species.

If you are lactose intolerant, it may mean you need to restrict your intake of dairy.

But there is a good chance you can still enjoy some dairy in small quantities.

There are treatments you can try for lactose intolerance including lactase pills, pre- and probiotics, and increasing your tolerance through controlled exposure.

These tactics may allow you to enjoy more dairy-containing foods.

But even if you do end up needing to avoid dairy completely, there are lots of other foods which contain the same nutrition you would get from dairy products.

You also will find plenty of healthy substitutes you can use in your favourite recipes.

So try not to let lactose intolerance get you down.

If you are smart about it, you can get the nutrition and enjoyment you need from your diet.

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  • Updated October 1, 2018

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What an interesting article! Thanks!

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