The good news is that most people with lactose intolerance can tolerate some lactose in their diet. This means that dairy doesn’t have to be off the menu for good, which is helpful when eating out. Research shows that most people can drink at least one glass of milk a day without symptoms. But the amount tolerated and consequent side effects varies from person to person, so it’s a case of ‘trial and error’.
Keep in mind that some dairy foods are lower in lactose than others. For example, hard cheeses (like parmesan and cheddar), yoghurt and sour cream have a lower lactose content than milk and custard. Start with eating small amounts (about ¼–½ cup of yoghurt, or a tablespoon of sour cream or grated cheese) and gradually try a little more each time.
When eating dairy foods, try to eat them as part of your meal rather than on an empty stomach, and spread it out over the day. A sprinkling of cheese over pasta or a dollop of yoghurt with dessert may be ok, but a large milkshake might upset your tummy.
If you really want to eat something high in lactose, like ice cream, you could try a lactose-digesting preparation, available from pharmacies. These tablets or drops work by breaking down the lactose in dairy foods to help improve digestion. The tablets are best taken before a meal, while drops can be added to milk to help minimise symptoms.