Eating Out When You’re Lactose Intolerant

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Lactose intolerance is made evident through any adverse bodily reaction to the consumption of lactose, which is found in dairy foods. This is due to the body having a lack of the enzyme lactase, which is required to digest lactose. Some people have mild effects such as gas after eating large portions of dairy; others have such severe symptoms that their bowels become ill and they become too sick for normal activities (I’ll spare you the gory details). Then there are the vast numbers of those that have reactions somewhere in between.


There are a number of treatments available on the market. Most of these options are in the form of pills. These over-the-counter remedies contain the enzyme necessary to properly digest lactose. Some pills claim to be a once daily solution to lactose intolerance; the majority of these enzyme supplements require one pill to be taken with the first bite of dairy food. Harder to find is the liquid form of this enzyme, but it does exist, and with a few drops per dairy serving it will aid in the digestion of the lactose consumed.

It is easy to carry these lactase enzyme pills in your purse to have on hand should you be invited for an ice cream treat or decide to treat yourself. However, some have found these pills to be ineffective or not as effective as needed to fully avoid the uncomfortable, and even embarrassing, side effects of lactose intolerance. One theory may be that the pill is not digested at the same rate as the food, therefore the enzyme is not able to help digest the lactose. For those that find little to no relief from lactase supplements, diet changes are necessary.

While it may be easy to control your dietary restrictions at home, it gets more complicated when eating out. It takes some dairy knowledge to learn what you can and cannot eat. It will vary depending on the severity of your lactose intolerance, but the following are some general guidelines.

Cheese: You most likely didn’t know that the majority of those that suffer from lactose intolerance, including those with severe symptoms, can indeed eat cheese. It’s a myth that cheese induces lactose intolerance symptoms (for most). It may be a dairy food, but during the processing of cheese the whey is removed (in milk, the whey is where most of the lactose is found). Therefore cheese has very little lactose content and is generally well tolerated. So feel free to eat pizza, Italian pasta with cheese, or even a cheeseburger.

Ice Cream: Containing a large amount of lactose, ice cream is a symptom-inducing hazard. However, you may be surprised to learn that you can eat frozen yogurt without the unfortunate effects. Frozen yogurt is, of course, made from yogurt instead of milk. Yogurt contains numerous digestion-enhancing enzymes and is easily digested even by those that suffer from lactose intolerance. So the next time you are at an ice cream shop, simply order frozen yogurt instead.

Another note about ice cream: when a dessert item comes a la mode (with ice cream on the side), you can order the item without the ice cream or ask for whipped cream instead. While whipped cream does have lactose, it has significantly less lactose content than ice cream and will be less likely to cause an adverse reaction.

Breakfast Foods: Waffles, pancakes, muffins, and even eggs are often made with milk. The best advice is to avoid breakfast foods when dining out as much as possible. However, for many that is an unreasonable request. Fortunately, waffles, pancakes, muffins, and similar breakfast items are usually made with minimal milk and are often tolerable. This is one of those experimental types of situations where you try a little at one time, see what happens that day, and learn from your experience. Just be aware of the fact that these edible items have the potential to cause lactose intolerance symptoms, so use caution and choose carefully.

Smoothies: You can have a smoothie as long as it is made from yogurt or soy-based products. Feel free to ask the vendor what exactly is in that smoothie. Many smoothie sellers will appropriately label their dairy free, soy, or yogurt options.

Milk: The most obvious advice is do not drink milk. Very few dining venues provide lactose free milk alternatives. Choose a different beverage instead such as juice, soda, or water.

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