6 Dairy Foods That Don't Affect Lactose Intolerance
Fun fact of the day: While 65% of the population is officially diagnosed with lactose intolerance, some experts believe that we'reallat leasta little bitlactose intolerant—we just brush off the bloating and gas as no big deal.
The reason it can be difficult for us to digest dairy is that, as we grow older, we start producing less of an enzyme called lactase, which is responsible for breaking lactose—the complex sugar found in milk. Not enough lactase means lactose molecules end up in your colon, where bacteria eat them up, producing gas and diarrhea, says Patricia Raymond, MD, FACG, a gastroenterologist and associate professor of clinical internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School. (Snack AND lose weight with this box of !)
The good news: While the nasty side effects might make you want to ditch all dairy forever, that's not always necessary unless you're severely lactose intolerant (i.e. your body makes basically no lactase), says Raymond and Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, author ofEating In Color. For those with milder cases, there are several dairy-based foods that actually won't trigger stomach troubles, thanks to their naturally lower lactose content. Here are 6 to consider trying.
You don't have to give up ooey-gooey cheese completely. Just stay away from soft varieties like mozzarella or brie. Harder cheeses—think cheddar, Swiss, and Parmesan—that have been aged at least 6 months, are perfectly fine. Enzymes used in the cheese-making process break down lactose more and more over time, so after the 6 months needed to make an aged cheese, there's very little lactose left. That's why cheese doesn't taste sweet—all of the sugar has been broken down, says Largeman-Roth. So go ahead and grate a little Parmesan over your pasta.
MORE: 7 Things That Happen When You Stop Eating Sugar
Yogurt can be another smart pick—but not all varieties. Look for yogurt that has "live active cultures" or "probiotics" on the label, says Largeman-Roth. These good bugs are essential, as bacteria feed on sugar and end up eating up much of the lactose. That's why probiotic-rich Greek yogurt is so tart—little of the sugar it started with remains once it hits your spoon. Even better, Raymond says, opt for full-fat yogurt, especially if you're not going Greek. It has about 8.5 g of lactose per serving, while nonfat has 14 g.
Never heard of kefir or quark? Well, you might want to get acquainted. Both fermented dairy products have healthy amounts of the same lactose-loving bacteria that make Greek yogurt easy to digest. And—thanks to the fermentation process, in which bacteria feed on more of the lactose than in Greek yogurt—even low-fat kefir or quark will be easy on your stomach. Use kefir in your morning smoothies and quark in place of thick cheeses like ricotta. (Here are more surprisingly tasty fermented foods to try.)
This one's a maybe. Unlike the other foods on this list, goat's milk does still have significant amounts of lactose. But anyone who is just mildly intolerant—meaning, cow's milk bothers you, but cheese doesn't—should give it a try. Goat's milk is lower in lactose than cow's milk and has been shown to be easier to digest for kids and adults with sensitive stomachs, Largeman-Roth says.
Video: Is Dairy Bad for You? 6 Facts About Dairy for Your Health
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