Living With Lactose Intolerance: My Survival Guide

Updated on December 14, 2018
kathleenkat profile image

After discovering my sensitivity to milk products, I began to notice that milk was in practically everything. This is my survival guide.


Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is very common, as are other allergies and intolerance related to milk and milk products. Some people probably don’t even know they have a milk sensitivity. Milk allergies can vary in degree; some people are severely allergic to the compounds in milk, whereas for others, milk just causes excess gas. Either way, if your body cannot process milk, this article will benefit you.

I developed lactose intolerance when I was about 16 years old. I would find myself sick to my stomach on a daily basis and couldn’t figure out why. Doctors and family members came up with different "explanations" ranging from irritable bowel syndrome, to spinal alignment, to too much sugar. I ended up throwing all those explanations out the door when I stopped eating milk and cereal for breakfast every day. That was it. A simple fix: stop ingesting milk.

Living With Lactose Intolerance

After discovering my sensitivity to milk products, I began to notice that milk was in practically everything. When checking the ingredients, look for any combination of the following: butter, milk, cheese, whey, yogurt, milk by-product, milk solids, lactic acid, sodium lactylate, etc. If you ever aren’t sure, look it up before you buy it.

The following is a list of some (shocking) foods and beverages that I found to contain milk products:

  • Bread (with the exception of “cheap” < $1 loaves)
  • Canned spaghetti sauce (Ragu, etc.)
  • Spaghetti-Os, canned chili, etc., frequently need to be checked
  • Pickles, olives, etc., often contain lactic acid
  • Packaged sandwich meats (contain sodium lactylate). Get it cut fresh at a deli, as it won’t contain those lactose-based preservatives.
  • Hot Dogs and sausages sometimes contain sodium lactylate as well
  • I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” and other non-butter alternatives actually contain dairy products
  • Chocolate chips
  • Chicken strips, other battered foods, etc., usually contain dairy as they are deep-fried in dairy products
  • SOBE drinks (pretty much anything that isn’t transparent contains milk)
  • Canned/bottled coffee drinks

Foods that are surprisingly okay to consume:

  • Mayonnaise (made from egg, not milk!); a good alternative to Ranch dressing
  • Aged cheese (sharp cheddar, Swiss, etc., has all been aged long enough for the lactose compound to break down)
  • Smart Balance or Earth Balance buttery spread (though margarines usually contain dairy product, these two brands are 100% diary-free)
  • Chocolate syrup (it’s essentially 100% sugar with some flavor and coloring)
  • Brownie mix is some combination of cocoa powder, sugar, and flour. No milk; you can buy it with milk in it, but it is very easy to find dairy-free.
  • Boxed mac & cheese Yep. If you check the ingredients, it contains “less than 2% of the following” when milk is concerned. It’s not real cheese. Mix in rice milk instead of regular milk.
  • Dark Chocolate The “good” stuff won’t contain any milk. Ghirardelli and Lindt have been faithful to me. Cheap “dark chocolate,” like Hershey’s, is actually just glorified milk chocolate.

Getting Through the Day, Dairy-Free

I am sure you can think of many things that don’t contain dairy. After a while, however, you may start to miss the dairy lifestyle. Here are some ways around it:


  • Rice milk or almond milk with your cereal. I prefer these to soy milk, because they have less of a dense texture to them.
  • Soy milk as a creamer in coffee. Soy milk is thicker than other non-dairy alternatives, and is similar in consistency to creamer. It also works well steamed for espresso.
  • Starbucks and other large coffee chains will typically offer rice milk or soy milk as an alternative, though they may charge extra for this. Also, be sure to ask, because some of their pre-mixed drink formulas contain milk.


  • Swiss cheese with mayo, mustard, fresh-cut meat, and dairy-free bread makes a great lunch.
  • Mac & cheese from the box with rice milk and Smart Balance tastes just as great. Making from scratch? Use aged cheddar or Swiss.


  • Pizza: Pillsbury Dough Mix (this is a small, inexpensive box of powdered mix), tomato sauce, and soy cheese is what I often use to make pizza. Be careful with pepperoni and other sliced meats because they may contain sodium lactylate. I have used aged cheddar, as well.


  • Vanilla Rice Dream ice cream is very delicious topped with chocolate syrup.
  • Brownies from a box. Typically, you just add egg and vegetable oil.

LACTAID Supplements

There are over-the-counter "treatments" available for lactose intolerance. LACTAID, or a generic alternative, makes supplements that contain the enzyme in charge of breaking down lactic acid. This enzyme is what you most likely lack with lactose intolerance. When you pop one of these with dinner, you can eat as much dairy as you want—although I would typically recommend taking two throughout the meal if you are indulging in a pizza or ice cream. Understand that LACTAID does not cure lactose intolerance; it simply gives you a temporary fix.

Consult Your Doctor

Talk to your doctor before taking these if lactose intolerance is a serious ailment to you. The lactose enzyme may not be the root cause of the problem in this case, and ingesting dairy may cause serious side effects.

Adjusting to the Dairy-Free Lifestyle

At first, the adjustment can be very hard and frustrating. After a while of looking and reading ingredients, you’ll get the hang of shopping and find that it is just as easy to get into a routine of buying dairy-free. Dairy-free alternatives, in some cases, can be very expensive. Conversely, dairy-free options can also sometimes be cheaper. Bread, for example, typically does not contain milk if it is very cheap. I don’t know why this is, but this is just what I have noticed.

Recognizing Your Limits

After a while, you will realize your limits. Lactose tolerance is very similar to alcohol tolerance in that every person has a varying degree to which they can handle before it adversely affects them. I have found that I can have a slice or two of pizza if it contains a variety of meat and veggie toppings. I have also found that I absolutely cannot handle any form of “recent” milk, such as milk itself, cottage cheese, or yogurt. Once you go dairy-free, you may decide to occasionally test the waters (unless your healthcare provider has determined you are severely allergic). Sometimes a handful of Doritos really isn’t that bad.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers


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      • profile image


        3 years ago

        i'm eating a brownie as I read this.

      • kathleenkat profile imageAUTHOR


        6 years ago from Bellingham, WA

        Thank you! I'll have to check out this French Toast hub you speak of. French Toast is oh so delicious...

      • Denise Handlon profile image

        Denise Handlon 

        6 years ago from North Carolina

        I just realized I have a Dairy Free French Toast hub I wrote awhile back. I'll link this one to my Recipe hub. It'll be a good connection I think.

      • kathleenkat profile imageAUTHOR


        6 years ago from Bellingham, WA

        Thanks for the comment, RTalloni!

        I grab the dark chocolate varieties in these brands. I'm talking, 80%, 85% dark. Very rich and strong taste. They do not contain milk product, that I know of, though I will definitely check the package again next time to make sure things have not changed!

        I actually used to buy the Kroger brand of chocolate chips, which did not contain milk. They were cheap and delicious bite-sized chocolate goodness. Somewhere along the line in 2010, they added milk to them. I was very annoyed.

      • RTalloni profile image


        6 years ago from the short journey

        Interesting read. Another item to look out for is the non-dairy creamer packets that are offered as an alternative to cream for coffee. Always look at the back of the package!

        Which of the Ghirardelli or Lindt do you find without milk? I get 365, Daily Dose, and a few others from Whole Foods, but have not found your two brands in any "flavor" that is milk free.

      • kathleenkat profile imageAUTHOR


        6 years ago from Bellingham, WA

        Thanks for your comment. I did not mean to equate the two, simply to say that people are sometimes allergic to milk, and sometimes have trouble digesting it (like you and I). The main point I am trying to address here is that there are many products which surprisingly contain milk product, and many that do not. Lactaid is hit-and-miss. Sometimes I need to take 2 or 3 of them with stuff like pizza, and they won't even work with ice cream for me.

        I did not know that about frozen yogurt. Admittedly, I have been too afraid to try it.

      • Lily Rose profile image

        Lily Rose 

        6 years ago from A Coast

        I've been lactose intolerant since I was around 3 years old (a long time). In your first paragraph you equate lactose intolerance and being allergic to milk - they are very different. Lactose intolerance is not an allergy at all, it's just a lack of lactase, the enzyme that is responsible for breaking down lactose. It's that simple. An alergy to milk is not so simple and often it's an alergic reaction to the milk sugars, but not always. Suffice it to say that it has nothing to do with lactose intolerance. Oh, and I would caution you about your statement that taking lactaid tablets with a meal allows you to eat all the dairy you want. While that may be true for you, it most certainly is not for me. Sometimes Lactaid works for me and sometines it doesn't - it's hit or miss, but everything in moderation still.

        You did provide good, helpful information above. Did you know that yogurt and frozen yogurt are usually tolarated well by a lactose intolerant person? I learned this many years ago, yet later than I would have liked. The process of milk turning into yogurt ends up increasing the lactase in it so it is tolerable.

        Oh, and also wanted to mention that when I was pregnant my lactose intolerance went away! It was very exciting, but once I was no longer pregnant it came back with a vengance.

      • kathleenkat profile imageAUTHOR


        6 years ago from Bellingham, WA

        Denise; I have noticed that about soy. I am thankful that I can process soy! I can sympathize with you, as dairy additives are quite common, too.

      • Denise Handlon profile image

        Denise Handlon 

        6 years ago from North Carolina

        Here's one comment in regards to Keith's remark about using Soy milk as an alternative. If a person is on a supplement for an ineffective thyroid, such as synthroid or levothyroxine, etc. SOY products are contraindicated. If consumed on a regular basis it will neutralize the medication. B/c of this I have not been able to eat tofu or use soy products...and soy is used FREQUENTLY as an additive ingredient to a product-almost as much as wheat is added.

      • kathleenkat profile imageAUTHOR


        6 years ago from Bellingham, WA

        Thanks, everyone, for the encouraging comments! Nice to know I am not alone. Living with any kind of food allergy or intolerance can certainly make life difficult.

      • kathleenkat profile imageAUTHOR


        6 years ago from Bellingham, WA

        I can't imagine what pregnancy would do to me!

      • profile image

        Daphne Shadows 

        6 years ago

        Oh. My. Gosh. I don't know how you do it! This is amazing to me, I didn't realize being lactose intolerant could take your life to such an extreme. I don't know how I'd ever cope! You're amazing!

        My mother gets lactose intolerant when pregnant. Hope that doesn't happen to me!

      • profile image


        6 years ago

        I used to have the biggest cravings for milk; however, I noticed I would get a lot of calcium pockets and I had to slow down on my milk consumption. Here's a good alternative to milk and eggs when baking: use soy milk and honey. Honey can act like a binding agent, just like eggs, when you're baking cookies, bread or cakes. Soy milk is definitely a good alternative for baking if you don't like milk. Also, with the honey, you could possibly call for less sugar in your baking; thus, less simple sugars :) Great hub, btw, Kathleen! voted up and shared :)

      • Denise Handlon profile image

        Denise Handlon 

        6 years ago from North Carolina

        Useful and interesting information here. There are many people who suffer from this condition and your list of foods with the dairy ingredient surprised me. Rated up/U/I

      • kimberlie33 profile image

        Kimberlie Kacan 

        6 years ago from Brooklyn, NY

        Thanks for this article. My daughter has a milk allergy and , by default, I end up eating a (mostly) dairy free diet. It can be really difficult because, you are right, just about everything has milk in it!

      • Lipnancy profile image

        Nancy Yager 

        6 years ago from Hamburg, New York

        I think you are right, at first it is difficult to give up all the foods that you love, but if you do it slowly it is not so bad. And always take that one day a week to treat your self.

      • kathleenkat profile imageAUTHOR


        6 years ago from Bellingham, WA

        Hi Charlee,

        Thanks for the clarification. Sodium lactylate is derived from stearic acid and lactic acid. Though not necessarily from milk, milk contains various levels of lactic acid (the more sour, the higher the level). Many people who cannot consume milk product cannot digest it because they lack the enzyme to digest lactic acid. That's why some who are lactose intolerant are also sensitive to this preservative.

      • Charlee Wright profile image


        6 years ago from Vancouver, Washington

        Generally speaking lactic acid and sodium lactylate are not derived from milk or dairy. It is possible to do, but would actually be less cost effective. Additionally, you can find both of these is certified vegan foods, though they aren't always vegan. If they are derived from milk, the FDA mandates that it must be declared clearly on the label.


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