Dairy got your bowels in a bunch? It might be time to switch to a lactose-free diet. With this plan, you’ll avoid or eliminate foods that contain lactose.

Here are the dietary deets on lactose intolerance and food.

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A research review showed that about 70 percent of adults don’t have enough lactase, a digestive enzyme that helps you digest milk sugar (aka lactose). This can lead to lactose-intolerance.

A lactose-free diet can help you avoid symptoms like:

Keep in mind, lactose-intolerance can totes vary from person-to-person. Some people can enjoy lactose in moderation without major digestive distress. But for others, a single sip of milk can result in symptoms.

Going 10/10 lactose-free can be a bit tricky. Lactose sneaks into a bunch of stuff you might not suspect. Here’s what foods to watch out for.


Let’s start with the obvious culprits:

PSA: Some dairy products contain less lactose than others. This includes butter, kefir, and hard cheeses. You might be able to eat them in moderation if you’re only slightly lactose-intolerant.

Grains and starches

A lot of commercial breads, rolls, biscuits, and baked goods are made with milk. You might get lucky with yeast-based breads, but you should def check the label first.

P.S. You also have to watch out for boxed cake, muffin, pancake, and brownie mixes.

Meat and meat substitutes

That sexy sammie you packed for lunch might be a surprising source of lactose. Lots of processed meats like cold cuts or hot dogs have dairy derivatives to add flavor.

If it doesn’t say “lactose-free” on the label, check the brand’s website. If you still aren’t sure, you’re prob better off with a safer option.

Pro tip: There are tons of killer kosher brands that don’t mix meat with dairy.

Sauces, seasonings, and pantry items

Lots of salad dressings, seasonings, gravies, instant soups, and sauces contain dairy. (RIP ranch 😢). If the label says “creamy” you can usually assume it has dairy in it, unless the product is labeled “dairy-free.” But you should still check the label to make sure.

Prepackaged foods

Lactose likes to hide in lots of prepackaged or processed foods. Look out for:

  • nuts
  • sorbet
  • cereals
  • oatmeal
  • granola bars
  • pudding mix
  • flavored chips
  • frozen French fries
  • instant coffee or tea
  • protein shakes or bars
  • instant mashed potatoes


Cookies… and cakes… and candies… oh my! You don’t have to totally give up your fave sweet treats if you go lactose-free. Just keep in mind that a lot of pre-made baked goodies have lactose.

To play it safe, you might want to make your goodies from scratch. That way you’ll know for sure that those brownies won’t lead to a ride down the Hershey River.

Burgers, pizza, nachos, pasta… cheese is the bomb. But for lactose-intolerant peeps, cheese can make food go from yum to UGH.

Your best bet is to stick to hard cheeses since the aging process can eliminate some lactose. If you can’t live without cheese, see if a serving these hard cheeses give you a rumbly tummy:

  • Swiss
  • Gouda
  • cheddar
  • Parmesan

Soft cheeses usually have higher levels of lactose. You might want to avoid:

Save yourself time before going on a nutrition label scavenger hunt. If a product has these ingredients, chances are it has lactose:

  • milk sugar
  • milk powder
  • lactose (obvi)
  • dry milk solids
  • lactose monohydrate
  • whey protein concentrate

BTW, you should also look for allergen warnings for milk or whey protein concentrate.

Here are some fab foods to fill up on when you go lactose-free.

  • Dairy alternatives: lactose-free milk, almond milk, cashew milk, oat milk, rice milk, or coconut milk
  • Grains and starches: beans, quinoa, oats, couscous, rice, potatoes, or squash
  • Fats: avocados and oils (e.g. olive, sesame, or coconut)
  • Fruits: apples, berries, grapes, mangoes, oranges, peaches, pineapples, or plums
  • Veggies: arugula, broccoli, carrots, collard greens, garlic, leafy greens, onions, spinach, or zucchini
  • Meat and meat substitutes: eggs, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, or seafood
  • Sauces: BBQ, steak sauce, or vegan marinades
  • Seasonings: any dry spice with no added flavors should be OK (e.g. basil, dill, oregano, or rosemary)
  • Drinks: water, unflavored tea, plain coffee, coconut water, or juice
  • Desserts: dairy-free ice cream or sorbet

Starting a new diet can be scary. But don’t worry! Here’s a sample meal plan to make your transition into lactose-free life easier.

breakfastsmoothie with frozen mixed berries, pea protein, and coconut milkavocado toast on dairy-free breadoatmeal cooked with almond milk, nut butter, and a bananascrambled eggs with sauteed spinach, peppers, and mushroomsaçaí bowl with coconut flakes, hemp seeds, and fresh berrieshomemade pancakesmade with almond milkbacon and eggs 🥓🍳 (a classic!)
lunchchicken noodle soup (with a soda on the side😉)chopped salad with oil and vinegar dressinghomemade pasta saladburrito bowl (skip the cheese and sour cream)homemade sushi rollschicken salad wrap with romaine lettuce and tomatoesBBQ chicken wings
snackveggie sticks with hummushandful of unflavored nutsdairy-free popcorn with saltorange and cashewshard-boiled eggapple slices with almond buttera big bowl of fruit salad
dinnerchicken and broccoli with white ricetacos 🌮salmon fillet with brown rice, steamed veggies, and homemade mashed potatoesveggie California burger on dairy-free bunspaghetti with fresh marinara saucesteak with broccoli rabe and potatoesstir fry with rice or noodle base, lots of veggies, and protein of choice

A lactose-free diet is a good option if you’re lactose-intolerant or have a milk allergy. If you’re only slightly lactose-intolerant, you might be able to enjoy dairy products in moderation without any symptoms.

If you’re not sure if a product has lactose in it, check the label. And when in doubt, channel your inner Gordon Ramsay and get to cookin’ at home!