I talk to people all the time about how to keep their bones and bodies strong by making sure their diet has plenty of protein, calcium and other essential nutrients. While milk, yogurt, and cheese are great choices, what can people do who might be lactose sensitive?

What is Lactose sensitivity? 

Lactose sensitivity occurs when a person does not have the ability to digest lactose, which are the sugars in milk and other dairy products. This can lead to gas, bloating, cramping and discomfort. People with a lactose sensitivity may not produce enough of an enzyme known as Lactase which aides in digesting lactose found in dairy products.

Can you eat pizza?

Though many people are sensitive to lactose, and can’t tolerate a glass of milk or a cup of ice cream, very few are completely intolerant. How would you know?  Well, here’s a question for you. Can you eat pizza without bloating, discomfort or other symptoms?  You see, pizza has mozzarella cheese on it and it’s one of several types of cheese with barely any lactose. If you can eat a slice or 2 of pizza without any bloating, gas or other digestive issues, then there’s a good chance that you’re not intolerant to lactose and can enjoy small amounts of dairy.

Even when there’s a concern about a lactose sensitivity, most people can enjoy small amounts of dairy in their diet. While the exact percentage of people who have a lactose sensitivity is not known, what is clear is that certain ethnic groups are more likely to be sensitive to the lactose in dairy products, including people of Hispanic and African American origin.

Having Dairy when there’s a Lactose Sensitivity

Many of my patients are surprised to learn that even when a lactose sensitivity might be present there are still many ways to continue enjoying the yummy taste of real dairy and get all the essential nutrients for bone health.

Bones are constantly remodeling and renewing

We tend to think that our bones are kind of like concrete and unchanging, but the fact is, at every age, our bones are in a constant state of turnover, which means old bone is removed and new bone is added. Calcium and Vitamin D are 2 of the essential nutrients we need every day to keep our bones healthy. Our bodies do not make calcium from other sources, which means we need calcium and protein every day for strong, healthy bones and the muscles that are attached.

Essential Nutrients are Important for Every Family Member

Dairy foods are an important source of 9 essential nutrients for every member of every family. As you know, calcium and Vitamin D are essential building blocks for our bones, but our bones also need other nutrients. The 9 essential nutrients found in dairy are:

  1. Calcium
  2. Protein
  3. Vitamin K
  4. Phosphorus
  5. Vitamin D
  6. Vitamin B 12
  7. Vitamin A 
  8. Vitamin B 2 – Riboflavin
  9. Vitamin B3 – Niacin

Getting essential nutrients with a lactose sensitivity

Some people with a lactose sensitivity are able to enjoy some low lactose dairy products or they can drink Lactaid milk, which contains lactase and is still a natural dairy product. The whole family can enjoy the delicious taste of real dairy and get the benefit of the 9 essential nutrients without the worry of tummy troubles.

How to increase milk drinking?

  • Use a variety of glass sizes and pour a little or a lot of milk for everyone at the table
  • Use Lactaid milk for those family members who have a lactose sensitivity because it contains absolutely no lactose
  • Stir chocolate into Lactaid or other milk to help make the taste appealing to different taste preferences
  • Make milk part of every after school snack
  • Use Lactaid or other dairy milk to make Horchata

Nurse Barb Lactose in Dairy for lactose sensitivity
Lactose in Dairy

The lactose content for individual milk products is the same, no matter the fat content. For example, 1 cup of milk has 12 grams of lactose, regardless if it’s whole milk, 2%, low-fat or fat-free.

What about Yogurts?

Note that while yogurt ranks relatively high on this scale, look for yogurts with live and active cultures, sometimes known as probiotic yogurts. The beneficial bacteria in probiotics help digest lactose, making it more tolerable by people with lactose sensitivity. Look for drinkable yogurts for a yummy taste and consider adding blueberries to your greek yogurt.


The following cheeses have very little lactose:

  • Swiss
  • Cheddar
  • Mozzarella
  • Ricotta
  • Parmesan

I hope this helps you get the calcium, protein and other essential nutrients you can find in dairy. Let me know how you and your family are enjoying the taste of dairy if you’re lactose sensitive.

Disclosure: I’m working with the California Milk Advisory Board to help educate parents and health care providers about the benefits of real dairy. (link under CMAB: 
http://www.realcaliforniamilk.com )

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