The main treatment for lactose intolerance is to reduce the amount of lactose in your diet. That means reducing the amount of dairy products, such as milk, yoghurt, ice cream and soft cheeses, that you eat or changing the way you eat these foods.
Most people with lactose intolerance don't need to eliminate dairy foods from their diet altogether. Many of these foods don’t contain large amounts of lactose and are a good source of calcium. For example, most cheeses contain virtually no lactose and are usually well tolerated. Yoghurt is also generally well digested since it contains bacteria that ferment (or consume) the lactose.
Most people with lactose intolerance can consume up to 250ml (one glass) of milk each day, if you consume it in small amounts throughout the day along with other foods.
Tips for people with lactose intolerance
While you don’t need to eliminate lactose from your diet if you are lactose intolerant, you may need to manage how you eat dairy foods to reduce the possibility of symptoms.
- Drink milk with other foods and not on an empty stomach.
- Distribute milk intake into small serves spread out over the day.
- Build up your tolerance by starting small and gradually increasing your milk consumption. Most people with lactose intolerance can tolerate ½ cup of milk at a time.
- Regular fat milk contains less lactose than low fat or skim milk.
- Yoghurt is often better tolerated than milk, and cheese is low in lactose and is well tolerated.
- You can buy drops from your pharmacy to put in milk to make it easier to digest. Talk to your doctor about the best product for you.
- Watch out for lactose in processed foods such as biscuits and cakes, cheese sauce, cream soups and custards.
It’s important to consume enough calcium every day. Most adults need at least 1,000 mg of calcium every day — more if you are an older or a pregnant woman.
Soy products with added calcium do not contain any lactose and can be a substitute for dairy products.
Other foods are good sources of calcium include:
- soy, almond and rice milk, although these are often lower in calcium
- broccoli, tinned salmon, oranges, pinto beans, rhubarb and spinach
If you suspect you have lactose intolerance, it’s wise to speak to a doctor or a dietitian.
A few people have such severe lactose intolerance that they have to avoid certain medicines because they contain lactose. It’s best to speak with your doctor or pharmacist if this is the case.
Lactose intolerance can be temporary, and it may be possible to gradually reintroduce milk and dairy products over time if you have had to reduce them in your diet.
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Last reviewed: November 2018