What foods to eat if you are lactose intolerant?

If you are lactose intolerant, avoiding dairy products can seem challenging. However, there are still plenty of delicious foods you can enjoy. The key is to focus on naturally lactose-free foods and lactose-free dairy substitutes.

What is lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is when your body lacks the enzyme lactase needed to properly digest lactose, the natural sugar found in milk and dairy products. This leads to digestive issues like gas, bloating, cramping and diarrhea after consuming lactose.

Lactose intolerance can range from mild to severe. Some people can handle small amounts of lactose, while others need to strictly avoid all dairy products.

What foods are naturally lactose-free?

Many healthy and nutritious foods are naturally lactose-free, meaning you can enjoy them without worry if you are lactose intolerant.

Meat, poultry and fish

All types of meat, poultry, fish and seafood do not contain lactose. This includes:

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Fish like salmon, tuna and tilapia
  • Shellfish like shrimp, crab and lobster

Fruits and vegetables

All fruits and vegetables are lactose-free, including:

  • Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit and limes
  • Berries like strawberries, blueberries and raspberries
  • Tropical fruits like banana, mango, pineapple and kiwi
  • Melons like watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew
  • Apples, pears, peaches and plums
  • Leafy greens like spinach, kale and lettuce
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts
  • Root vegetables like potatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes
  • Squash, peppers, tomatoes and avocados

Grains and starches

Grains and starchy foods like:

  • Bread, pasta, tortillas and crackers made without dairy ingredients
  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Corn
  • Potatoes

Nuts, seeds and beans

Plant-based protein sources including:

  • All types of nuts and seeds
  • Legumes like beans, lentils and peas
  • Soy products like tofu and edamame
  • Nut butters like peanut and almond butter

Oils, herbs and spices

Adding flavor to lactose-free foods:

  • Olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil
  • All fresh and dried herbs like basil, cilantro, mint
  • All spices like garlic, ginger, cinnamon, paprika
  • Condiments like mustard, ketchup, vinegars


Hydrating lactose-free drink options:

  • Water
  • Coffee and tea
  • Fruit juices without added milk
  • Plant-based milks like almond, coconut, oat, soy
  • Sodas, seltzers and sports drinks

What dairy substitutes can you use?

There are many lactose-free dairy product substitutes available to replace milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream and more. Always check the label to confirm they are 100% dairy-free.

Lactose-free milks

  • Almond milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Oat milk
  • Soy milk
  • Rice milk
  • Hemp milk

Lactose-free yogurts

  • Coconut milk yogurt
  • Almond milk yogurt
  • Soy milk yogurt

Lactose-free cheeses

  • Dairy-free cheese made from nuts
  • Vegan cheese made from vegetables

Lactose-free ice creams

  • Sorbet and sherbet
  • Dairy-free ice cream made with almond, coconut or cashew milk

Lactose-free butter substitutes

  • Vegan margarine
  • Coconut oil or butter
  • Olive oil or avocado oil

Tips for following a lactose-free diet

Here are some helpful tips for living with lactose intolerance and avoiding lactose:

  • Read food labels carefully. Check ingredients lists for any form of milk, milk solids, milk powder, whey, casein or lactose.
  • Look for lactose-free labels. Choose foods that say they are lactose-free, dairy-free or vegan.
  • Supplement calcium and vitamin D. Take supplements to replace the nutrients you miss by avoiding dairy.
  • Try lactase enzymes. Lactase enzyme pills or drops can help you digest dairy products.
  • Bring your own food. When eating out, ask about ingredients or bring lactose-free foods with you.
  • Communicate with loved ones. Make sure friends and family understand your restriction so they can accommodate you.

Sample meal plan

Here is a sample one day lactose-free meal plan:

Meal Foods
Breakfast Oatmeal made with almond milk, berries, almonds
Lunch Tuna salad sandwich on lactose-free bread, carrot sticks, grapes
Dinner Tacos with seasoned ground turkey, lettuce, tomato, salsa and guacamole
Snacks Apple with peanut butter, lactose-free yogurt

Foods to avoid

It’s important to avoid all sources of lactose and dairy products if you are lactose intolerant. Foods to eliminate include:

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Ice cream
  • Butter
  • Cream
  • Sour cream
  • Yogurt
  • Custard
  • Pudding
  • Frozen yogurt
  • Whey protein powder
  • Casein protein powder
  • Cream sauces and soups
  • Creamy salad dressings
  • Chocolate and candy containing milk
  • Baked goods made with butter or milk

Even small amounts of these foods can cause symptoms, so strict avoidance is important. With practice reading labels and finding substitutes, you can find lactose-free options for all your favorite foods.

Food allergy vs. intolerance

Lactose intolerance is not the same thing as a milk allergy. With a true milk allergy, even very small traces of milk protein can trigger an immune system reaction with severe symptoms like vomiting, breathing issues or anaphylaxis.

Lactose intolerance only causes digestive symptoms. People with a milk allergy have to avoid all milk-containing products, whereas some people with lactose intolerance can manage small amounts.

Seeing your doctor

If you think you may be lactose intolerant, it’s a good idea to see your doctor. They can help diagnose if lactose intolerance is the issue and rule out other conditions like food allergies, IBS or celiac disease.

A hydrogen breath test is typically used to officially diagnose lactose intolerance. Your doctor may have suggestions for managing your intolerance with supplements like lactase or advice on following a healthy lactose-free diet.


Lactose intolerance can be challenging, but it is possible to avoid discomfort and still eat delicious foods. The key is focusing on naturally lactose-free foods like fruits, vegetables, meat, grains and dairy-free alternatives. With proper label reading and meal planning, you can create varied, nourishing lactose-free meals. Be sure to get needed nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, and talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.

Leave a Comment