Cramping from lactose intolerance

Lactose Intolerance: Symptoms, Causes, and Food Swaps

Living with lactose intolerance means your body has difficulty digesting or breaking down foods containing lactose. Lactose is a type of sugar found in dairy products andis broken down by an enzyme called lactase. Your body may not produce enough of this enzyme for reasons, such as:

  • Age (often as you get older, your body makes less of it).
  • Crohn’s disease or other medical conditions.
  • Medications or radiation treatment.
  • Genetics.
  • Long courses of antibiotics.

Common symptoms of lactose intolerance

Without enough lactase, your body can’t break down lactose into smaller pieces for digestion. Undigested lactose stays in the digestive system and can cause:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Cramping
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss (in children)

How severe the symptoms get depends on how much lactose is in the food you ate, and how much lactase is in your body. Symptoms may be different for everyone.

Common ingredients to look for that contain lactose

These words on ingredient lists will help you determine whether or not a product contains lactose:

  • milk
  • lactose
  • whey
  • curds
  • cheese flavour
  • milk by-products
  • dry milk solids
  • nonfat dry milk powder

What foods can I eat?

Most people with lactose intolerance are usually able to eat small amounts of lactose, but it is helpful to try swapping out foods that you have a negative reaction to.

If you have a negative reaction to these foodsTry these foods
ButterCoconut Oil, Olive Oil
Cow’s Milk, Goat Milk, Sheep MilkLactose-free milk or plant milks, like almond milk and soy milk
Milk ChocolateDark/semi-sweet chocolate
Milk-based Ice CreamSorbet
Frozen YogurtYogurt with active bacterial cultures, kefir
Soft cheeses, like ricottaFermented, hard, or aged cheeses, which have less lactose (swiss, parmesan, blue cheese), cottage cheese, sour cream

Because many foods containing lactose are important sources of calcium and vitamin D, it is important to make sure you still get enough of these nutrients in your daily diet! If you are unsure about whether your current diet is well balanced, talking to a nutritionist or doctor can help.


  1. National Institutes of Health. (2021, July 8). Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Lactose Intolerance. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
  2. Dieticians of Canada. (2019). Healthy Eating Guidelines for Managing Lactose Intolerance. The Global Resource for Nutrition Practice.
  3. UptoDate. Lactose content of different foods. 2021.