Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month may be on your mind this February, but Lactose Intolerance Month is also on the calendar. Do you love the taste of dairy foods, but occasionally feel discomfort after eating them? 

Lactose intolerance is a type of food sensitivity, not an allergy or disease. The condition arises from not having enough lactase or the enzyme that digests lactose, which is the natural sugar in milk and dairy foods.

“Health experts note that because dairy foods provide many nutrients needed for a healthy diet, you should not give up dairy all together,” said Monica Nyman, St. Louis District Dairy Council Registered Dietitian.

For those with lactose intolerance, there are variety of ways to enjoy the recommended three servings of dairy every day without the discomfort.

Fall in love with dairy - again

Mix it in

Start with a small amount of milk daily and increase gradually until you find the amount that works with your tolerance level. Solid foods help slow digestion and allow the body more time to process lactose. Drink milk with meals, blend it with frozen fruit in a smoothie, or add it to hot or cold cereal for a protein-packed breakfast.

Layer it on

Natural cheeses contain minimal amounts (less than 1 gram) of lactose due to steps in the cheese-making process, along with natural aging. Top sandwiches or whole grain crackers with slices of Cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack, Gouda, Provolone or Swiss.

“Cheese pairs well with all food groups, and a 1 ½ ounce serving provides 30% of your daily calcium needs,” Nyman added.

Spoon it up

While yogurt contains lactose, it also has live and active cultures. This unique feature helps break down the lactose, making it easier to tolerate. Greek yogurt contains less lactose than traditional yogurt due to the straining process used to create a thick texture. It also contains live and active cultures, helping to digest lactose. Try topping either type of yogurt with fresh fruit and a handful of granola for a tasty breakfast, snack or dessert.

Try it out

Lactose-free products, such as milk, yogurt and ice cream, are available in many local retail stores. These products contain the same nutrients found in conventional dairy products, like calcium, potassium and vitamin D, and have a great flavor - all without the lactose. Substitute lactose-free products in favorite recipes and at the dinner table.

In addition, keep in mind that over-the-counter lactase supplements can be taken before enjoying dairy foods to eliminate the symptoms of lactose intolerance. Be sure to speak with a physician regarding any questions or for a specific diagnosis of lactose intolerance.

To download a tip sheet on Lactose Intolerance or visit the RESOURCES section. For more information on the health benefits of dairy, contact Nyman at 314-835-9668, or mnyman@stldairycouncil.org.