lactose intolerant drinking lactose-free milk

Managing Lactose Intolerance


Written by: CDHF

Updated: April 14th, 2023

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Millions of Canadians deal with lactose intolerance. Not everyone diagnosed can tolerate the same amount of lactose. Many people with lactose intolerance can eat some foods with lactose by changing the amount, type, and timing of these foods. Other people may need to limit or avoid these foods altogether. Managing lactose intolerance can be tricky, so we’ve outlined some ways to manage your diagnosis. 

Signs and Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance

First things first, it’s important to recognize the difference between lactose intolerance and an allergy – as the two are not the same and managing them will be different. 

Individuals with lactose intolerance often experience discomfort after consuming dairy. Symptoms can begin as early as 30 minutes after dairy is consumed or can be delayed up to 2 hours after consumption.

While lactose intolerance may present itself differently among individuals, common signs and symptoms include:

By adulthood, up to 70% of people no longer produce enough lactase to properly digest the lactose in milk, so if you’re wondering if you can suddenly become lactose intolerant – the answer is yes. 

Lactose can be found in: 

Can also be an ingredient in foods like bread, cereal, and salad dressings so be sure to read packaging labels!

On the other hand, individuals with a milk allergy experience an allergic reaction to a protein in milk. Symptoms usually develop within minutes to 2 hours after eating the food or drink, and can range from mild to severe. These include: 

A milk allergy can affect people of all ages, but it is most common in children, and many will outgrow it. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, reach out to your health care professional.

Lifestyle and Dietary Changes for Lactose Intolerance

Now that we understand how to recognize a lactose intolerance, let’s go over some ways to manage the not so pleasant symptoms.

Try adjusting your lifestyle and dietary choices by: 

For some, decreasing the amount of lactose in your diet or avoiding altogether may be necessary. 

Foods that are lactose free include:

Lactose-free dairy products also contain the same amount of calcium as regular dairy products, which is important to avoid calcium deficiencies when on a lactose-free diet. Non dairy sources of calcium include chia seeds, sesame seeds, broccoli, celery and almonds. However levels of lactose in these foods are typically lowered and not as well absorbed as in dairy products.

Vitamin D is an important vitamin/mineral to be mindful of when avoiding dairy as it builds and maintains healthy bones. Milk is a great source of Vitamin D, so switching to lactose-free milk will have the same nutritional qualities. You can also obtain Vitamin D through sunlight, vitamin supplements, fatty fish and certain vegetables, such as mushrooms (if grown under UV light).

Individuals with lactose intolerance can still enjoy a diverse and nutritious diet without sacrificing taste. Managing lactose intolerance can be done by paying attention to what foods trigger symptoms and adjusting your diet accordingly. Always speak with your doctor or registered dietitian before making changes to your diet to ensure you are still getting the nutrients you need when avoiding lactose.

managing lactose intolerance infographic


  1. Malik, T. (2021) Lactose Intolerance.
  3. CDHF. (2023). Lactose Intolerance.


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