Why You Don’t Have to Avoid Dairy If You’re Lactose Intolerant

Being lactose intolerant doesn’t mean you have to give up milk, yogurt, and cheese; learn 8 tips to help combat lactose intolerance.

Sanaz Majd, MD
5-minute read

It’s no secret that my sister loves to drink coffee.  And every morning, she used to stop by the closest coffee shop for her delicious non-fat vanilla latte.  After one of our conversations where I advised her to cut down on her daily caffeine intake, she decided to sacrifice her daily coffee runs.  That helped her to not only cut down on caffeine, but to also cut down on her spending. 

Then, after several months of success, she caved in and returned to her old habits.  But she started to notice some mild abdominal bloating and gas after drinking her usual lattes.

“I feel like a balloon!  Do you think they are skimping out on the good milk or something?” she asked.

So she changed coffee shops, and still, every time she had that latte, she found herself inflating.  She finally realized that she too, along with up to twenty percent of the population, was suffering from lactose intolerance.

What Is Lactose Intolerance?

To understand what this condition is, we first need to understand what lactose is.  Lactose is a special type of sugar found in mammalian milk.  People with lactose intolerance lack enough of the protein, or enzyme, that is produced by our intestines to help break down and metabolize the lactose component of milk products.  That deficient enzyme is oh-so-cleverly called lactase.

What Are the Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance?

People who have problems digesting lactose may experience such common symptoms as bloating, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, and lots of gas after eating dairy. All of us develop some level of lactose intolerance as we age, but some develop more than others.  Those that decrease their dairy intake over time may develop more lactose intolerance sooner. 

Is Lactose Intolerance the Same as a Milk Allergy?

Lactose intolerance is not the same thing as a milk allergy, which is the immune system’s reaction to a protein that is found in milk.  About 1% of kids less than age 3 are actually allergic to milk, and a milk allergy is even more rare in adults.  Lactose intolerance does not mean that you are allergic to milk!


Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education.